June 30, 2011

Mrini and Tara have always been active kids. Amit and I have always encouraged them too. We never make much of it when they hurt themselves and we generally allow and even encourage them to climb and jump. They have done some truly scary things sometimes, and Amit can get really gory with them when they do dangerous things that must be discouraged. But whenever the threat of injury doesn’t seem to be too great (either the threat or the injury) we let them be.

When they were small, they used to climb the window grills and hang from them.

When the discovered the big play area, they experimented with jumping from as many as ten steps up.

And of course, in the Har ki Dun trek, they skipped over rocks and stones, sank calf-depe in snow, went sliding over ice, and splashed in the stream with complete abandon – at least on the way down.

It’s not that they don’t get hurt or that they don’t wail and moan when they do; it’s that they go right back to whatever they were doing as soon as they can.

In recent days, Mrini has been teaching herself cartwheels. Since neither of us can do a cartwheel (the thought of Amit even trying boggles the imagination), we can’t offer much guidance. But we can tell when it looks right and we can give her feedback on that. She has improved dramatically in the last few days. From leaping sideways more-or-less like a frog (albeit a slightly lop-sided frog) she has progressed to occasionally making an almost vertical cartwheel. It’s amazing to see how that child picks a goal and works so diligently and so enthusiastically towards it. Tara tried a few times, but got easily frustrated and has apparently given up – for now. The last time that happened was with somersaults. That time she came back to it months later and did it with unbelievable elan. So with that one, you just can never say.

Mrini’s diligence at cartwheels and their combined eagerness for physical activity persuaded us that gymnastics would be a good option for them. We had thought of it off-and-on over the past several months, but didn’t really know how to go about it. There was supposed to be a very reliable gymnastics association quite far away from home. The timings didn’t suit. But last weekend, after a long and tiring Sunday, at 7.45 p.m. we walked down to a nearby gym and enquired. It turned out they did have gymnastics classes for kids. Our kids weren’t too young – they were, in fact, a bit old. But we could start them, anyway. We got a demo class for free and could pay up after that, if we liked the look of it.

On Tuesday, we both left work early, picked up the kids from daycare (they usually complain loudly if we pick them up too early, but not yesterday!) and went for the demo class. It was great fun. First the kids – there was a batch of eleven, all of them older and taller than our two – got to do all sorts of running and jumping. Then they did sideways rolls and forward rolls (what we call somersaults). Most of the movements our girls were able to do easily – most of them they had already discovered and practiced at home. There was a split leg forward roll that they didn’t quite get and then there was the reverse roll that they didn’t get at all. After that they did splits (which they were quite good at) and the arched back thing that they didn’t get at all. Considering that it was their very first class, they didn’t do too badly, though. Some of the movements were completely new to them, and others (like jumping jack) they have seen but can’t do, yet. Still – at what they did know, they were as good as many of the others. They had to jump over the width of a mattress kept on the floor – this they could do easily. In fact, they are extremely good at the long jump and could probably have done one-and-a-half mattress widths with their eyes closed. Some of the bigger kids couldn’t really clear the mattress. But then, they had to jump and bring their knees to their chest and this they didn’t get at all – they kept bringing their heels to their bottoms instead.

In the end, they all played “dog in the bone”. (If that’s what it’s called – it’s a variant of what we used to call Pitthoo – our version involved a ball and a tiny tower of unstable stones.) The girls haven’t been exposed to this game, so they weren’t very sure what they had to do, but they gave chase with a great deal of excitement, anyway.

It was just one hour, but it must have been tiring at the end of a school day. One thing I can say for sure is that they went through the whole session with a big grin on their faces. It’s lovely to see how tiny kids don’t really bother when they don’t get something. The age will come when they begin to feel self conscious, when they begin to tease each other, or strive to out-do each other. The time will come when they feel bad and don’t want to go back to a class where they feel they can’t keep up. But right now, it’s the early days of laughter and innocence. If they don’t quite get something, nobody cares. They laugh and carry on.

Looks like gymnastics class is going to be the next source of fun in our kids’ lives.

If Ever…

June 27, 2011

I’m not the campaigning sort. Most campaigns feel fake to me – designed more to direct publicity towards the campaigner than to actually achieve anything. People who really want to change something quietly go out and do it. The ones who cry themselves hoarse are not the ones who’re really making a difference. That’s what I believe.


So I’m not the campaigning sort myself. The only time I did it, it still felt fake. But – never say never again, they say. So if I were to ever take up arms for or against anything, it would most likely be one of these things (in increasing order of likelihood):


5. Corruption – Particularly, corruption in those fields that deal with aiding underprivileged people. Charitable organizations, relief work, rural schools, hospitals and the like, the public distribution system… anybody who claims to be helping other people and is  illegally getting rich in the process is on my hate list.


4. Waste – Indifference to scarce resources is criminal. Why leave a tap running when you could just as easily turn it off? Why take more than you can eat and then wash it down the drain? Why turn the pump on and go away and let pure drinking water fall over the side of the building and run into the gutter?


3. Fairness creams – The belief that fair skinned people are somehow better than dark skinned people and that fairness is, therefore, something to aspire or pray for… it’s just a perverted form of racism!


2. Cruelty to animals – From pelting stones at street dogs to shark fin soup. I’m not promoting vegetarianism, but can we at least be humane to the animals we tolerate, love, domesticate, or massacre?


1. Sexual assault – It still shocks me that so many kinds of sexual assaults are committed on (mostly) women and children and are either tolerated, or ignored. Why, for instance, should marital rape not be considered rape?


What are the top five things that you would like to change, if you could?

State Bank of India

June 23, 2011

That’s what I must be looking like, these days. Or maybe I walk around with dollar signs in my eyes, like Richie Rich in the old comic books. I never thought I came across as a particularly sympathetic sort. I thought I’m a pretty callous type, capable of not just saying no, but adding along with it, “That’s your problem, what’s it got to do with me?”


Still, my domestic help always think I’m a soft touch. I’ve noticed that they are particularly prone to think so when Amit is not around. That’s when their sob stories come out, along with the big eyes and mournful faces. This latest domestic help tried to get money out of me back when she was about a week old. I told her “no” in no uncertain terms. Since then, she has behaved admirably well. Today she asked for a thousand bucks. Since it is well over halfway through the month, I agreed. But I really hope she’s not going to make a habit of it, because I wouldn’t want to lose her, but I don’t want to be held to ransom either.


As if this was not bad enough, the security guard at office came up to me and whispered that he could use a thousand bucks. What!? I don’t even know the guy, for pete’s sake. I mean, I say good morning to him most days, and he does collect my couriers for me and even send some couriers for me – but since when is that grounds to ask me for a thousand bucks!? I told him I didn’t have it, which was true, then I decided it was a weak answer and I told him, “no, I don’t do that.”


I’ve been stupid about money in the past. An old faithful domestic help had taken upwards of 15k from me. When we parted, on good terms, she still owed me 10k. She still owes me 10k. What’s worse is, really long ago, in the innocent days, I lent a colleague money. I think I lent him 7k – which, a decade ago, and at my income level in those days, was a small ransom. He didn’t give it back until things got ugly. It was only later that I – and a lot of others – realized that this chap was borrowing money left right and center and never giving it back to anyone. I was one of the lucky few who got it back, and that was only because I threatened him loudly and in public.


Then there was the flower girl in our old apartment complex. I had absolutely no relation with her whatsoever, considering that I don’t even buy flowers. Her only claim on me was that she happened to occupy the pavement two floors below my apartment. She appeared to believe that this made it incumbent upon me to lend her money. She had a story, of course – her son was sick, he needed medicine desperately, she hadn’t sold any flowers yesterday, ergo, no money, and if she didn’t get 500 bucks today, she couldn’t buy flowers for the day. Plausible, of course. Heart-wrenching, of course. Piled on with fast-flowing tears, of course. Amit – who is smarter than me in these things – said, “tell her we’ll buy the medicines for her son.” I didn’t do that, of course. I gave her the money. For months, she kept promising to give it back to me, but she never did.


It was probably that incident, more than any other, that made me a cynic. But, cynical or not, I remained stupid. I still gave my old faithful domestic help the loan she needed. And I still threw Rs 500 down the drain with the flower girl. So far I’ve managed not to be taken in by the people who wander around the streets of Bangalore wanting to know if you speak Hindi and then launching into a long litany of woes about lost purses and train tickets and whatnot. But basically, I’m a sucker for a long face and a sad tale.


Nowadays, though, the long face remains but the sad tale seems to be a dying art. The two people who’ve asked me for money in the last two days haven’t bothered with a story of any kind. Earlier, at least I felt they were appealing to some human element in me. Now, I’m apparently nothing more than a walking, talking ATM machine.

Not a Night Owl

June 22, 2011

Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t really keep my eyes open past 10 p.m. On the rare occasions that I do achieve this remarkable feat, I usually need half a dozen people around me, talking to me, to be able to do it. Even then, it’s not easy.

There’s a piece of writing that wants to be written. An idea has been knocking around in my head, wanting to get out for the last several days. It might turn into my next (next) book, or it might not. But it does want to get written down to see how it turns out. I haven’t even started yet. Naturally, there’s no time. From 6 a.m. till 8.30 p.m. every moment of my time is spoken for. Then I have an hour to relax, and then it’s time to pack up and go to bed. The only way to get this beast out of my head, it seems, is to sacrifice my sleep. So yesterday I decided I would pull an all-nighter.

I tucked the kids up in bed (figuratively speaking, of course), sent Amit away to the study to do his own work, and settled down with my computer to write. By 9.45, I had done about a thousand words and the idea was starting to take shape. And I was starting to fall asleep. I thought that tidying up the kitchen and packing lunch for the kids might wake me up, so I went to the kitchen. By force of habit, from the kitchen I went straight to the bedroom. By 10.25, ten minutes later than usual, I was in bed. (I daresay that by 10.26 I was asleep, but I wasn’t awake enough to glance at the time by then.)

So much for the all-nighter.

I don’t regret going to sleep. I know I’m no good when my brain has already shut down and my body is just waiting to follow. I don’t know what kind of gibberish I’ll churn out if I attempt do something creative at that point. But what I’m wondering is, how do all these other brilliant over-achievers do it? How do you work, and keep the house running, and spend time with the family, and get some exercise, and then try to do something extra and do it all without falling asleep? Or how do you get by on a steady diet of five hours of sleep each night? I wish I could. I know it can be done, because other people do it; but I really don’t know how they do it.

God knows how many of my masterpieces the world will be deprived of just because I was too busy sleeping! I’m seriously worried about this! But… as they say… I’m not losing any sleep over it. J

Book Review: The Cobra

June 20, 2011

I just finished – or should I say, I just managed to struggle through to the end of – this best seller by Frederick Forsyth. I think I used to read Frederick Forsyth twenty-odd years ago. I’m reasonably certain I read The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File and The Fourth Protocol. Maybe also The Negotiator. I had the impression of good, fast-paced, thrilling action books, with intricate plots. Either my memory sucks, or the Frederick Forsyth who wrote The Cobra is not the same Frederick Forsyth who wrote those masterpieces. Because, I don’t care how many million copies he’s sold and what the rest of the world says, in my opinion, The Cobra is no masterpiece.

There are many problems with the book. The first and foremost is that it just doesn’t draw you in. A good book should draw you in no matter what point you flip it open at. And certainly, it should draw you in at the beginning. And even if it wants to get off to a slow start (which it shouldn’t if it is supposed to be an action-thriller) it should still get going in the first 50 pages or so. This one doesn’t. I waited for it to get going for the first 292 pages and then realized that it would finish in another 100 pages. Mind you, a riveting climax after a 300-page yawn would still be something – but nope – no climax, riveting or otherwise.

The book doesn’t have much of a plot. It has a problem statement, which is to the effect: Cocaine is bad. It destroys people. The “plot” if you want to glorify it by the name, is to get rid of the cocaine industry. In my dictionary, the word “plot” involves some twisting and turning, something well woven together, multi-dimensional. Something that goes in a straight line could possibly be a “story” but even a story should have some elements of interest, some element of surprise. On reading the Pied Piper of Hamelin recently (kids’ version – is there any other?) I discovered that it has a twist in the tail. I either never knew, or had forgotten, that after he rids the town of rats, the Pied Piper is cheated of his payment and takes his revenge by walking off with all the children of Hamelin. That’s what I call a story. Without that part, it’s hardly even a tale worth telling. The Cobra doesn’t have that. There is something that happens at the end, but, to be honest, I didn’t get it. And in any case, the main aspects of the ending were such a let down, that it was hardly even worth wondering about the details.

Even books without a plot are carried through sometimes on the strength of their characters. Wuthering Heights, for one. The plot is one that has been repeated a thousand times before and since. But the characters – ah! What characters! It’s probably unfair to pit a lowly work like The Cobra against a true masterpiece like Wuthering Heights, but if you’re supposed to be an international best seller, then you’re asking for it.

Next problem – The Cobra is full of people – so many that the author thought best to list them out in the beginning and probably had to refer to the list himself to remind himself of who’s who. That’s what it comes across as. Each person is a name and a designation (of sorts) but nothing more than that. Even characters who play key roles, who occupy the central parts of the narrative, such as Cal Dexter, The Animal, the Cobra himself, the Don, all of them are two-dimensional. The only character who has a shade of a third dimension is Senor Cardenas, and that’s only because he effectively sacrifices his life for his daughter, a daughter he dearly loves – this, at least, is something the average reader can relate to. The rest of the characters – nada.

And the biggest let down – for an action thriller, this book is completely lacking in action and thrill. There is something happening, of course. Something is happening right through the book, all the way to the end, almost. But it’s not exciting. You don’t get right into the action – you see it from a mile above. There are a lot of dry details about how the “war” against drug trade is planned. You might well be impressed by the author’s knowledge of ships and planes. You might also, towards the end, be impressed by the number of gangs he names in various parts of the world. But come on – this is not a text book on ships, planes, and gang names. I want the action, gimme the action!

You’d think that with that many fast-paced action thrillers under his belt – which I presume he has, though I haven’t read all of them – the author would know by now how to get the reader right down into the action. But either Frederick Forsyth has forgotten his craft, or I’ve forgotten how to read this genre.

All You Never Wanted to Know About Family Planning

June 16, 2011

Day before yesterday my cook didn’t come. Her husband delivered the message that she wasn’t well. Vomiting and stomach pain, he told Amit. When she came yesterday, I asked her how she was now. “Ok,” she said. “Was it a stomach bug?” I asked (in Hindi, of course). She looked around nervously and asked if Amit (“Sir”) was home. Only when I’d reassured her that he was out of earshot did she explain. I’d expected a mundane female problem like a painful period, but it was worse than that. She said she’d missed her period. Uh-oh. So she’d gone for a urine test at the “dispensary” (I have no idea which dispensary or how reliable it is.) The test was positive.

I was already in the midst of congratulating her and wondering, internally, how many months she’d need off, when she said, “But I didn’t want the child. I asked for a medicine to get rid of it.”

“But why?” I asked in shock.

“I already have one,” she said. “How will I take care of another? And here – I don’t even know which hospital to go to. Even my husband agreed that we should get rid of it.”

I was bewildered. To me, it seems perfectly natural that if you have one child and she’s three, it’s the right time to have another. But ok, maybe finanaces being short, it made sense not to have another. And our country is already overpopulated and I didn’t want to offer any extraneous advice, so I just agreed with her. But then, wasn’t prevention the way to do it?

“I already did this once,” she said. “The other madam took me to a hospital and she picked up the cost of everything.”

I wondered if I would have done so, had I even known. In general, I prefer not to get too involved, but this sort of thing can go terribly wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing.

“The lady at the dispensary gave me five tablets. She said to have them on an empty stomach. I took three, but nothing happened. Then I ate something. Then I had the other two.” After that, she went on to describe the effect. Vomiting, diarrhea (I think) and pain as bad as labor pain. She said the baby aborted, but I don’t know how she knew that. I must confess that I didn’t enquire too closely into the matter.

After all the mess, she ate a bowl of cornflakes and milk (what?!?!?!) and went to bed. And the next day, she was back to normal.

I don’t really know what to make of all this. Obviously, having been in the position of wanting to be pregnant and never being pregnant, I always feel a little sad about people who “waste” their pregnancy this way. But that’s irrelevant. I really wouldn’t want anyone to bring a baby into the world that they didn’t want. Adoption worked for us, but that’s not the reason for women to have unwanted pregnancies. And for many people, it obviously makes sense to raise one child and do it well – especially from the financial perspective – than to have many and not be able to provide for them. But still, I was shocked by the matter-of-fact way in which she took the whole thing. I always thought that personally I could never have an abortion, because I’d already feel that the  developing baby inside me was a person. Clearly, she didn’t feel anything of the sort. “It was only a month or so old,” she said.

But then, there’s the remedy itself. I wonder what on earth was in those pills. Was it legal? I doubt it. Was it safe? I doubt it. Was it effective? Apparently, but at some cost, which I don’t even know.

“How long can you get by like this?” I asked her. “Why don’t you use something?”

She said she wouldn’t mind getting operated on. Apparently they even pay you 2k for the service.

“Ok, when you decide to get that done, tell me. I’ll come along.” At least I’ll see the place, talk to the doctors, read the forms, work out if she knows what she’s getting into. I wouldn’t want her to sign away a kidney or something. You never know!

I don’t want to get involved, but – there’s a limit.

Another Review

June 13, 2011

It’s so nice when you come across perfect strangers who have read your book and liked it enough to say so. I know I’m being disgustingly vain now, but what the heck – my two seconds of fame, I might as well enjoy it.

Too Good To Be True

June 10, 2011

So you remember how our last expedition to the passport office ended, right? We had to get letters from the agency with the kids’ photos pasted on them, which we’d got very quickly – by Monday, in fact. But it was Thursday evening before I managed to really make up my mind to go to the Passport office the next morning. And that meant, on Thursday night at 9.30, Amit was out visiting our neighbours and getting their consent to put their names and addresses on the Personal Particulars Forms. We filled up the forms – two per child – and even managed to find out their height without waking them up from sleep. As to eye colour, we weren’t very certain. Amit said brown, but I thought black. The other particulars weren’t too difficult, with one minor exception – Applicant’s signature.

Four year olds, even if they are close to five than to four, can’t sign. So presumably we would need to put thumb prints. This posed two problems. First, neither one of us knew which thumb (or finger, for that matter) needed to be printed. I was under the impression that it was the left thumb, but I couldn’t swear on it.

In any case, it was irrelevant, because the other problem was that we didn’t happen to have an ink pad handy. When it’s 10 p.m. and the kids are going to go to school at 7 a.m., taking their thumbs along with them, the chances of getting one’s hands on an ink pad are rather slim, and so are the chances of getting the required thumb prints.

It’s most frustrating when you have firmly made up your mind to undertake a tedious chore, to find that you will not be able to do it. So when I had packed the kids off the school this morning, and Amit had found his way home after tennis, we wondered whether we should to ahead anyway, without the thumb prints. The Personal Particulars forms didn’t actually mention anything about a thumb print. Amit checked the online version of the form and found that it did mention thumbprints – left for males and right for females – but the forms we had had been given to us by the Policy Section of the passport office, and they didn’t mention thumb prints. Could we just sign for the Applicant and be done with it?

Amit called the 1-800 number, but we had to wait till 8 a.m. to get a person on the other end. The person said, of course, that thumb prints were required. I had picked up my laptop case and was almost out of the door heading for office when Amit called me back. “Let’s try anyway,” he said.

So off I went, expecting a long drive, a long wait, and not much joy at the end of it.

The first two parts were as expected. I waited in queue from 9 till 10. I got token number 139 and 140 – quite a bit worse than last time. I entered and whizzed past the waiting hordes straight to the Policy section, where there were only two people ahead of me. I showed the letter, and was told to go to Counter 10 on the first floor and get it uploaded. That took a quick five minutes. By the time I got back to the Policy section, there was a queue of 20 people. The security officer took my form and pushed it through ahead of whoever was at the window. Then I spent half an hour or so sitting at the edge of my seat, waiting. At last, the name “Nayantara” was called. I jumped up.

“The particulars for both applicants are the same,” said the woman at the counter. “Are they twins?”

I confirmed that they were twins and sat down again. Five minutes later, “Nayantara” was called again. I jumped up again.

At this point, there were four people at the window. Two or three had been called, and one was the person who was actually being served at the time. Security was trying to get some people to clear away, but the women behind the window wanted all of us there. One woman looked at me and said, “The passport is sent for printing. It will be delivered to you.”

I gaped at her. Was she really talking to me? They hadn’t seen the originals of the letters yet. They hadn’t asked for the Personal Particulars form. They hadn’t pointed out a hundred problems in the forms, including the lack of the thumb impression. They hadn’t said Police Verification would be required in Pondicherry and Bangalore.

“Um… it’s gone for printing?” I asked, stupidly.

“Yes,” said the woman shortly. I could see that she was mentally moving on to the next person.

“How long will it take?” – I needed to keep her talking while I thought of what else I should ask.

“Two weeks.” Still thinking of the next person.

“I don’t have to do anything else?”

This time she actually looked at me, as if to say, “What are you, stupid?” “No,” she said.

As I stumbled off, still in a daze, it occurred to me to wonder if they had processed Mrinalinee’s passport as well. They hadn’t mentioned her name even once. But that, of course, could be because they didn’t know how to say it – they saw the M and the R and they got worried and went on to the next name, which has nicely alternating consonants and vowels and which, moreover, is the name of a Tamilian actress, or so I have been informed, and therefore perhaps not such a strange concoction to them.

A couple of hours later, Amit checked the status on the Net. Both passports were shown as approved today and sent for printing. If all goes well, we’ll have them in hand in a couple of weeks. It’s hard to believe, what with the missing thumb prints and everything, but this might just become a reality sometime soon.

Still,  we’re not celebrating just yet. You never know – another trip to the Passport Office could very well be written into our future.

Seniors (Already)

June 3, 2011

So the kids went back to school on Wednesday. They’ve started their third year now; this year, they are “Seniors”. Cliched though it is, I must say it: How time flies! Wasn’t it just the other day that I put them into the nearby playschool so I could enjoy a brief respite from the constant state of high-alert they kept me on?

They are old enough to get the idea of summer holidays now – at least, they get that summer holidays will end at some point and they will go back to school. It’s nice that in the Montessori system, the class and the teachers remain the same. The “babies” (M0 and M1 kids) are new, and the “seniors” from last year (M3 kids) have moved on to First standard, but the M1 and M2 kids from last year stay on in the same class, so two-thirds of the kids are the same every time school reopens. (Albeit a different two-thirds, if you know what I mean.)

So far, the kids were taking a school van to get from school to daycare. This year, we’ve started to send them by school van for the morning drop from home to school as well. Hats off to the kids that they’ve accepted this step with their usual elan and wait eagerly and impatiently for the school bus every morning. It’s a different van from the one they take to daycare, different driver, attendant, and kids, and this one ferries older kids as well as tiny kids. But they never batted an eyelash at the newness of it, and were thrilled to discover that two of their classmates are on the same van.

School is five whole hours this year – 8.30 to 1.30. They leave home at 7.15 and get to daycare only at 2.15! They get two snack breaks, but no proper lunch break at school, which means lunch gets pushed out to 2.30 or so, which is pretty late. Breakfast is basically a glass of milk, so the snacks will have to be fairly substantial to keep them going till 2.30. Yesterday we packed two snacks in one box for each girl and apparently they ate both the snacks in the first break and had nothing for the second break. What’s more, Mrini was so tired by the time she got to daycare that she ate very little lunch and went to sleep! Sorting out their meal content and schedule is going to take some work. Already I’m terrified each day that I’ll forget to pack some crucial element of their school bag or their lunch bag which will lead to them being hungry, thirsty, or under-dressed some day. And I’m really worried about how I’m going to come up with ideas for two healthy and substantial snacks per child, per week day (20 snacks per week!) and still keep it interesting.

And there’s another thing that’s worrying me in a “back of the mind” kind of way. Their teacher told me at the end of the first day that I should make Tara do some writing work at home.

This teacher of theirs is an experienced and balanced kind of teacher. She’s not the overly pushy kind. And the nice thing about her in particular and the Montessori system in general is that there is a real effort to understand each child and work with them as individuals. This is as far removed from cookie-cutter education as it is possible to be at least in the Indian context. At the end of the first year, she told me, “They should be able to count to ten by now, but it’s ok. We can work on it next year.” She also said, “Let them eat with their hands and let them do a lot of drawing and colouring. It will improve their fine motor skills and help them to learn to write.” This kind of advice I can work with – anything that is a general recommendation and that, moreover, tends to work around a problem, sounds good to me.

At the end of last year, the teacher said, “Let them do some clay modeling over the holidays. It’s good exercise for their hands.” Well, we didn’t get around to doing clay modeling, but I didn’t worry about it. They did a lot of colouring and crafts at daycare, but I didn’t “work” with them on writing or anything else during the holidays. I’m the irresponsible type of parent who believes that “working” with them is the school’s job and my job is to do lots of other stuff. But when their teacher told me that Tara needs to work on her writing at home (“a little bit, if you can – don’t force her or anything”) I was worried.

The thing is, since this is a generally balanced teacher who has given sensible recommendations in the past, I can’t dismiss this advice out of hand. On the other hand, “working” with Tara at home is not, in my opinion, the right approach. Given that I’m not going to be the kind of mother who holds her child’s hand (literally or otherwise) throughout school, working on handwriting at the tender age of less-than-five is not something I’m going to do. In my opinion, Tara’s handwriting is not the problem. The problem is her attitude. I want her to learn to focus, to learn to take her work seriously, and for her to believe that she can do well and then to want to do well. If I have to teach her anything, it’s motivation first, then discipline, focus, and plain hard work.

I’ve seen other people teaching kids to write – by holding their hands. That’s easy enough – anyone can do that. But how long will you keep holding their hands and teaching them? How long will you, the parent, be responsible for what your child learns? I do want to teach my kids, but what I want is to teach them to teach themselves. That’s not so easy. Some would say that it’s too early for that lesson, but I don’t think so. It’s never too early. The problem is to find the right way to do it.

Motivation, for instance. It’s easy – “Write ten lines, I’ll give you a chocolate.” But that, again, is not the right kind of motivation. The motivation must be to do a thing well, not the rewards that come along with it. Can this kind of external motivation lead to some kind of internal motivation? I think not – why would you need any other source of motivation if your motivation is a chocolate, a book, a cycle or whatever? The motivation I want to see in Tara – Mrini already has it to a surprising extent – is “Write ten lines because you can.” Or “Write ten lines because you want to learn.” Or, what would be best, “Write ten lines because it’s so much fun.” In the absence of that, I’ll even settle for “Write ten lines because you have been told to and then you can go play.” There’s nothing wrong with obedience and plain old discipline if all else fails.

One thing I used to see quite a bit of, but it’s been less evident of late, was a kind of negative competition between the girls. Mrini always wanted to do her work and she got a lot of praise for it. Tara didn’t want to do the work, but she would try to just because she saw Mrini getting attention and praise. Then she would lose interest and start messing around. I think she had begun to feel that “Oh, Mrini is so good at all this, I’m hopeless, there’s no point in even trying.” Nowadays, this has changed a bit. Tara has been uncharacteristically helpful around the house, while Mrini has been irritatingly uncooperative. So Tara gets the brownie points, for now. Amit and I are both consciously trying to notice and praise her when she’s focusing on something, anything. We’re trying to tell her that she can do well at things, if she tries. Trouble is, essentially their personalities are different – Mrini is all eager to please and Tara is devil-may-care. This makes motivation that much more of a challenge for Tara – she will only focus on and work on something for her own sake, not for anybody else’s. And if she’s cut out that way, I don’t think it’s too early to start telling her that she has to focus on her work for the sake of the work itself.

The question is: How can I get her to understand and accept that?

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