Saturday, October 7, 2017

Utopia in Uttarakhand!!

We are on our annual Bharat Darshan tour, this time around the Northern State of Uttarakhand. Beginning from the banks of River Ganga at Haridwar and Hrishikesh to travelling up the winding roads to Mussoorie followed by a wildlife Safari at Jim Corbett national park and now for one last run-in with the clouds on the Gagar hill ranges at Nainital!

When traveling, it's hard to strike the right balance between engaging in hectic sight seeing expedition and indulging oneself with a relaxing holiday. When you've travelled so far from home (and the package costing you a pretty penny) might as well make the most of it.. and get your money's worth... while at the same time.. it's a vacation,after all.. and you should be allowed to put your feet up and get some R & R... isn't it? 
Well.... this has been a constant tussle through out our trip. But the key is to focus on the hits rather than the misses ( which I confess ... have always had trouble doing!) as for all you know.. the main take-aways from any trip are the experiences, memories and pictures of the highs and not the lows... and with time..the so called "lows" evoke just as much nostalgia as the highs!!! 

The highlight of this trip ( at least for me) has been visiting the Queen of hills - Mussoorie, which felt like a pilgrimage of sorts for a Ruskin Bond fan like me. Though we couldn't get to meet our favourite author, we did get to catch a glimpse of the hills with its mighty deodars, pine and walnut trees growing therefrom, the doon valley view, umpteen little streams lining the meandering roads and the myriad wild flower blossoms that always seem to find a place in his stories and his writings indeed do complete justice to the beautiful landscape that was before us, (of course, only if you ignore the touristy trappings like tourist vehicles mindlessly blaring their horns, garbage lying uncollected and tin sheds and hutments that have mushroomed at every nook and corner of Mussoorie that only seeks diminish its rich natural beauty). But thanks to our visit, we can now very well  relate to " Lal Tibba", Camel Back Road", "Wynberg-Allen school"  and many such places Ruskin Bond refers to in his stories.

We also got to visit the iconic Cambridge Book Depot and leave a note for our favourite author. The Cambridge Book Depot that was established in the year...... and located at Mall Road, Mussoorie, houses amongst others, a complete collection of all of Ruskin Bond's titles and is also the place where Ruskin Bond meets his fans every Saturday .....(Alas! He was not available this Saturday)

But curiosity got the better of me, we did make a trip to get a view of "Ivy Cottage" from the outside only to find a small little house perched high up, with a breathtaking view from its windows.... So excited was I that my husband had to literally hold me back from climbing up to his narrow staircase leading to his entrance and knock at his door!!

No worries.... as I guess like any author, or an artistic/creative personality, Ruskin Bond too is wary of letting strangers ( even fans) invade into his privacy, and is best met through his writings... and with this understanding, we did a Ruskin Bond special during our journey... each of us with a Ruskin Bond in hand!!!

"Roads to Mussoorie" was my companion as we drove from Hrishikesh to Dehradun and then up to the mountain ranges leading up to Ruskin Bond's "paradise regained"! A compilation of stories old and new revolving around his surroundings, all throwing light on historical, naturalist and societal perspective of Mussoorie then and now. A must read for anyone planning on a visit to Mussoorie.

 Amongst the other titles,  our favourite family read aloud was "Tigers for dinner - Tall tales by Jim Corbett's Khansama", most appropriate as we  visited Jim Corbett National park. 
A collection of about six spine chilling stories  about the various encounters with tigers, leopards, king cobras and other dangerous creatures during the tenure of Mehmoud as Jim Corbett's Khansama..... all narrated from his perspective.. and presented in a quintessentially Ruskin Bond style.  As Mehmoud dishes out his famous Kofta curry to lamb chops to quenching the summer heat with his succulent mango milkshakes, he regals little Ruskin Bond with interesting tales revolving around the jungle expeditions of the famous Jim Corbett and party, adding his own spice and masala to them! Packed with adventure, suspense and subtle humour, and aptly illustrated by Sunaina Coelho, reading this book almost makes up for not sighting any tigers during your jungle Safari!!!:-)))

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Happy Birthday Abhay-anna!

I guess this is the first time that Abhay has had to write an exam on his birthday and so there was nothing “Happy” about the first half of his birthday and this may not be the last time he would have an exam on his birthday as the month of September has always been the mid-term exam season for as long as I can remember….and that he has now come to encounter this in class six. Well…..what can I say…. Welcome to the real world buddy….. as no matter what …you gotta work when you gotta work!
Anyway, kids these days have a lot of expectations from their parents to make their birthdays special and  celebrating birthdays with cake and a few gifts followed by a quiet family dinner does not exactly quality as “special” anymore…all that’s given anyway! It almost feels like you’re trying to impress your boss when he says “Hmm…I wonder what else is cooking up for my birthday…”!!Phew!

Of course….each of us had our own way making Abhay’s eleventh birthday extra special…from home made delicacies dished out by his paternal grandma to the gifts ordered off the internet (as if on Abhay’s birthday registry) on behalf of his maternal grandparents, from  the old-school style of gifting a watch by his grandpa to the host of knick-knacks and gifts bought by his father and to the new-generation  dedication on a local FM station on the radio by his mom…from numerous whatsapp messages (and still counting) on our various family and friends’ groups  to the babbled “Happy Birthday Abhay-anna” from his baby sister…. We all chipped in to make the whole day better than all the individual specials put together…..after all the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts and  I sincerely hope that Abhay grows up to understand the same!!

In keeping with the recently devised  birthday tradition (that began only over three years ago and I don’t know how long we can keep it up as he grows older!) we had a birthday treasure hunt of eleven gifts symbolizing each year of his life, with the first clue handed over by his sister!  So celebrating her brothers birthday, we read about a baby leopard’s “Hide and Seek Birthday Treat” by Linda Jennings and Joanne Partis. Brightly coloured and narrated in rhyming verses, this book (another gem from Kutoohala)  is a sure delight to read aloud to a toddler who will sure be excited to go on a breezy “I Spy” adventure  of various animals of jungle who all missing on the leopard on the day of his birthday!  As the baby leopard goes looking for his friends from zebra to lion, from snake to crocodile and is almost disappointed to find none present for his birthday only to realize that they were all in the hiding for a reason…. To throw the baby leopard a surprise birthday party!! Despite nursing a viral infection, our  little one couldn’t be more excited on her big brother’s birthday……Happy Birthday to Abhay-anna! J

Monday, August 28, 2017

The feast of Ganesha Chaturthi!

Every year around the time of July and August, as I drive down some of the city’s roads like R V Road along VV Puram, I see rows and rows Gowri-Ganesha idols lined up …and my heart swells with a warm feeling that that Chowthi is here!  There are a few annual rituals that we look forward to and Ganesh Chaturthi has always been one such family event that we make it a point to join in the celebrations at my father’s ancestral home in Dharmasthala. In fact, the run up to Chowthi is even more exciting …… as we plan our trip, book our tickets or get ready to drive down and  connect with other cousins and extend family as who may attend and who else may give it a miss. As the day nears and we pack our bags and are all set to catch the overnight bus to Dharmasthala only to realize that the whole of Bangalore has landed at the Kempegowda bus stand intending to travel to their respective hometowns for the festival….. literally making it a nightmare to get out of Bangalore! J

Anyway, the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi as a family fosters a community feeling and helps to continue the family tradition and pass on the legacy to the future generations. It is delightful to see the next generation participate in the event will full rigour and enthusiasm and the new members involve themselves without any inhibitions and this only strengthens the family ties and relations…which is after all the true spirit of celebration of festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi.

Every year during Ganesh Chaturthi, we read a book or two about Lord Ganesha and other mythological stories, and this year I picked up a Puffin publication “Lord Ganesha’s feast of laughter” by Meera Uberoi. As much as I would have liked to read Ganesha’s stories to my little one, I felt that it would be appropriate for us wait a year or two for introduction of mythology to my two year old. So we settled for a chapter book from our favourite library “Kutoohala” pegged mainly for kids over eight years to read on their own, however can serve as read-aloud for kids above five years. This book is a compilation of over twenty three well-known and not-so-well known tales of Ganesha “dug up from ancient texts”, delivered in a breezy narrative so as to engage young children. In fact, I found that the language got a little too contemporary in some places (especially with the usage of words like idiot and moron) so as to get today’s kids to relate to the perspective and mindset of the mythological characters, however without diluting the underlying message therein. From the famous tales of Ganesha winning the race around the world, how he stopped Ravana from becoming all powerful and how Ganesha came to be known as “Remover of all obstacles”, the book moves to lesser known stories about how Lord Ganesha about how Ganesha is creator of the instrument of tabla and was responsible for the birth of river Kaveri, etc. The collection also includes stories a few ordinary people who attained immortality by their devotion to Lord Ganesha and the grace of Lord Ganesha, that always has a touch of shrewdness, humour and unmatched brilliance.  Season’s greetings to everyone this festive season! 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

My Brother!

Last week began with Rakhi, the Indian festival celebrating the brother-sister bond, which has acquired greater significance in our household, since the arrival of Abhay’s little sister. While the last two years had been a one-sided affair with the little sister too young to even comprehend what was happening, Rakhi was celebrated more for Abhay to accept the fact that he is now a big brother. This year, however, with the little sister already looking up to her ‘anna’ for many a things at home, and the concept of Rakhi also reinforced by the celebration in her playschool, it felt as if ‘Rakshbandhan” has truly arrived and will always be a special day in the lives of Abhay and his baby sister.

Of course, with Abhay too young  (or should I say too self centered?) to pick out a gift for his sister on his own, it was our job to fill the gap…well at least until he grows old and mature enough to understand that Rakhi is not all about “the brother”! But I must say that the transition of Abhay from being an only child to a big brother has been more or less smooth, with an occasional hiccups, quite expected of a young boy that we often forget that he is, after all! Well done ...big brother!! 

Image result for my brother anthony browne

On the occasion of Rakhi, we read what the little sister loves to call the book “Anna-book”Anthony Browne’sMy Brother ”. Narrated in first person from the perspective of a little brother who almost worships his big brother, who believes that his big brother is capable of everything – from climbing walls to flying, from standing up to bullies to containing monsters, from being a rockstar-like singer to grooving like Elvis Presley, from being avid reader to a talented artist, big brother is sure a cool cat (at least sometimes!) and you can almost feel the little brother wanting to emulate him as as he considers himself to be as cool as his big brother! Narrated  by way of simple one liners that come alive with brilliant illustrations archetypal of Anthony Browne’s books…this book makes for a splendid Rakhi read!!  Belated wishes to all the brother-sister duos on the occasion of the Rakhi season! :-) 

Friday, July 14, 2017

It's Aha! all the way!

It's that time of the year again... a chance to 'enthrall, entertain and educate the kids and say AHA! In Arundhathi's Nag's own words, one of Rangashankara's most "precious" theatre festivals "Aha! International theatre for children is in it's eighth year and going strong!! With troupes from all over the world, including Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom Korea and Afganisthan performed at Rangashankara this week...with shows ranging from puppet theatre to shadow plays, from symbolic and surreal to delightful gibberish …..children between ages of four and above were in for an artistic treat!

This year's takeaway  were seven AHA! characters that embrace diversity and seek to break stereotypes in society – from Raju who loves the colour pink to Pammy who loves to fix bulbs …from mini-master chef Nandu to the cricketer Lilli! The interested children got to choose one of these characters and act out /demonstrate their characteristics in their own manner and style.

While this year’s year highlight were age specifications prescribing both minimum and maximum age for the shows, as it had been increasingly felt that there is no "one size fits all" when it comes to children's theatre, my only complaint is that there isn't any performance catering to very young kids.. as it only seems unfair that my younger one had to wait for two whole years to be unable to experience Aha!:-(

For the last six years…..we’ve been regular at Rangashankara’s Aha! festival and we come back each year begging for more and more…! I’m sure early exposure of theatre to children has a positive impact on their impressionable minds. In fact, I’m amazed at the how my son seemed to remember some of the performances that were staged over 3 to 4 years ago! All thanks to Rangashankara’s Aha! festival.

While my daughter may be too young to enjoy interesting performances  at Rangashankara this year, she is not too young for the interesting stories revolving around pretend and play acting …………. And there could not have been a better choice to suit the occasion than “Ari” a Tulika publication by Vaishali Shroff and illustrated by Kavitha Singh Kale. Centered around a shy and sensitive boy named Ari whose soft voice is often drowned out by the common din in the classroom. When the class teacher announces selections for the class play, Ari’s hands go up but not high enough for the teacher to notice. While Ari follows the selected children onto the auditorium to watch the rehearsals of the play ‘Lion and the Mouse”, he cant help feeling that he could be a much better job of playing the Lion than his classmate. Though a little disappointed but Ari does not lose hope and finds tremendous satisfaction in mono-acting the characters of lion and the mouse in front of a mirror at home…..only to find someone squeaking in to play the role of a mouse – who else – his mother who joins in the play-acting of the famous fable of “Lion and the Mouse” …. And after the performance, the actors finally take the much deserved bow! A beautiful rendition of a tale of childhood yearning fulfilled by a creative parent to make happy growing-up memories and that’s the Aha! spirit…isnt’ it?