Grandma or Tom Sawyer!?

One of my all time favourite books is Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In particular, I remember the part published as a separate story titled Whitewashing the Fence. Briefly, Tom is assigned the job of whitewashing the fence by aunt Polly––something that he does not really like. He starts whitewashing the fence, but ultimately makes the other kids of his neighbourhood do the job for him. He sells the idea that whitewashing is a work of art and not many can do it well. His friends fall for the challenge and come to do it in turns. They even pay him in kind to be able to get a chance at it. He not only gets the job done (he is able to get three coats of whitewash on the fence) by his friends but also makes some gains in the form of the core of an apple, a kite, a dead rat and a string to swing it with, twelve marbles, part of a Jew’s-harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through… the list is very long. Says Mark Twain, “If he (Tom Sawyer) hadn’t run out of whitewash he would have bankrupted every boy in the village.”

Mark Twain summarises Tom’s exploitation of the kids thus:

“He (Tom) had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”

Throwing small challenges, which a kid cannot but accept, is an art. Grandma Rita Jain, a Professor of Botany, seems to have mastered the art well. She has stitched a colourful mat with leftover pieces of cloth that she had. She makes her grandson, Kartik sit on the mat and proposes (that’s her way of challenging the little one), “Kartik, I wonder if you can point at the red squares.”

3aaa0de2-c2b9-436b-ae18-5a72c4d58887Kartik feels victorious when he is able, not only to point, but also count the squares of a particular colour. Sitting in Padmasan, the Lotus Posture on the same mat and performing some other actions form a package deal of challenges, which he enjoys accepting.

One trick cannot keep a kid engaged for long. Kartik seeks variety. The other day, the grandma sat by him and started whipping curds with the traditional Indian whipper (Mathani). It was a stratagem. As the grandma had expected, the little one was attracted to it and wanted to do it all by himself. “Dadiji, I want to do it,” he expressed his desire.

e60e8f23-aed3-4f1d-9828-a4196a484cde“Beta, it is difficult. Do you think you can really do it?” She made the exercise of whipping the curd sound like a highly technical job.

“I’ll do it slowly. I’ll not spill anything. Let me try at least. Please, Dadiji.” Kartik urged.

“Okay! Go ahead! Let me see how well you do it,” the grandma ratcheted up the challenge.

Kartik did it; and did it well. There was nothing great about it. But that little challenge was a step forward in improving eye-hand coordination. The sense of pride that he had at the end of the exercise, gave him confidence for yet another challenge.

In these games that Kartik and the grandma play, both are winners.  

 

 

The Little Coin-Collector

I just phoned a friend. I fall back on Banjo for solutions to many problems. Today it was to know the right word for ‘one who collects old coins’. His prompt answer was ‘numismatist’. Now, that word is a little difficult for me to spell and more so to pronounce. And, I guess not many people are familiar with it, at least in India. So for this post I’ll stick to a simpler expression: ‘coin-collector.

IMG_4035I had just been introduced to this new hobby. I had started with a few coins, which my grandfather had given me. I had not seen them in common use. Some were shapeless and not as shiny as the coins I was used to seeing. I washed them with soap and water but there was no improvement in the looks. I tried other cleaning materials to no avail.

“How do I shine my coins?” Now, this was a worry wearying me out. I was five then.

Where there is a will there is a way. In a different context, unrelated to my problem, I heard someone say, “Petrol is a good cleaner. I use it to clean my cycle chain.”

“Coins! Petrol! Cleaner! Eureka!” I had stumbled upon a solution to the nagging problem that had taken away my sleep. “I will clean my coins to a sparkle and surprise everyone,” I was determined.

“I would need a very small quantity of petrol to clean my coins. Where do I get it from?” The solution to the subsidiary problem came instantly. We had a moped.

“I’ll draw some petrol from our moped. How do I do that?”

Where there is a will there is a way. I took a piece of sponge fastened it to a metal wire and lowered it into the petrol tank, dipped it in petrol and pulled the wire. It wasn’t easy.

The piece of sponge got detached and fell into the tank. My efforts to take it out failed. The problem was that the inside of the tank was dark and I could not see the piece of sponge. “How do I see it to be able to fish it out?”

Where there is a will there is a way. I’ll light a match and illuminate the inside of the tank; locate the piece of sponge and fish it out. Simple!”

I ran inside our house and fetched a matchbox. I took out a matchstick and struck to ignite. I failed to light it. It was destined that way. Before I could strike the match a second time, I saw my eldest brother approaching.

A word about my eldest brother: Born on December the 25th he has been a guardian angel to us, the younger siblings––warding off our troubles.

I staggered when I saw him approaching. Not that I was afraid of him; I loved and adored him. Just that I did not want to seek his help in this endeavour. I wanted to go it alone and surprise everyone.

I shelved the project for sometime.

In due course, I had other pressing issues to deal with––my homework, a game of football with my friends in the neighbourhood…. Coins, sponge and petrol were forgotten. A big tragedy was averted.

Not really! When it strikes again the second time, my guardian angel would not be around to steer the path for me. I leave that story for another day.

Anything can ignite a child’s mind.

 

 

One Anna

In the early sixties one anna used to be big money for a little kid in a small sleepy town likeAnna Ujjain. It was equal to six naye paise. It had the power to buy half a dozen candies, or to hire a bicycle for an hour, or to buy a bus ticket to travel half way across the city. An anna wrapped in appreciation could do much more.

Read on to truly appreciate the power of the copper-nickel coin.

I was barely five then. Dr Lalit Khanna had given me the coin in appreciation of a poem I had copied on my slate at the behest of my sister under whose tutelage I had learnt to form the letters of alphabet. I had gone around showing off my handwriting to every moving thing in my small world. I was fishing for compliments. Dr Khanna appreciated my handwriting amidst a group of three adults as he presented the coin to me.

When I grew up, I realised that there was nothing great about how I had written the poem that day. My handwriting wasn’t all that beautiful; I had just arranged the letters and words neatly in straight lines. Dr Khanna, the great motivator that he used to be, wanted to encourage me. The reward let my innocent mind believe that my handwriting was actually beautiful.

It marked a turning point in my life. That moment onwards, everything became a writing instrument and I used all the blank spaces on any piece of paper that I came across, to write. Writing became a passion. The word ‘calligraphy’ entered my vocabulary much later in life, after the art had become my hobby.

Thanks to Dr Khanna, I have a cherished hobby.

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Calming Crying Kids – Puneet’s Way

Puneet happens to be a gem of a jeweller friend––a burly figure; used to weigh 20 stones at one time. Although much less at 18 stones, he is no less burly; can easily eclipse two of my size. I just met him and told him about my blog He was amused when I told him about the Section on “Being Parent” and about some of the posts contained therein.

I was a little surprised when he told me that he too has to deal with crying kids, and on quite a regular basis. Parents come to his showroom with children, mainly girls, to get their ears pierced. The process lasts a few seconds for each ear. The child is confused when one ear is pierced. But when it is time to pierce the second, she becomes uncontrollable. A team of five people including the parents standby to assist when the second ear is pierced.”

Puneet has a way of calming the child. “First I tell her that the stud fitted in her first earlobe is looking pretty. If she doesn’t get the stud in her second ear, she would look funny. I show off my own studs and her mother’s earrings. If this effort does not calm her, I show her a mirror.” He says that children, girls in particular have a decent opinion about themselves; they wish to look pretty, always. They stop crying when they look at themselves in the mirror.

“I use the Brahmastra when my normal efforts don’t seem to work,” he adds. “I start crying and wailing louder than the child.” He explains that children are not used to seeing adults crying; a giant of a man like me crying baffles them. They give a pause to their crying and try to understand me. It is also a fact that their memory is short, and they tend to forget and do not resume crying.”

The formula works.

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“Happy Birthday, Mahavir Swami!”

“When you make a greeting card for a person, you express your true love for that individual. It is one way to say that you care,” Chhaya used to tell our son, Mudit. Mom’s word being gospel, the little Michaelangelo used to let go of his imagination to create masterpieces of greeting cards. A skydiver, a flower, a hut, a car, a motorbike, a bird, or even an Uncle Chips sticker––literally anything that crossed his mind when he sat down to make a greeting card––found a place on his canvas (paper).

Some of the best wedding anniversary cards we have ever received in over three decades of our happily married life have been the ones specially designed by him––they are among our most prized possessions.

Mudit Greetings 1

In due course, it became a habit with him. If it was a birthday, it was his responsibility to make a birthday card.

One day he came to Chhaya and said, “Ma, tomorrow is a holiday. The school will be closed. They say it is Mahavir Jayanti. What is Mahavir Jayanti?”

“It is Mahavir Swami’s Birthday. He is our God,” explained Chhaya. Little did she know that her reply would trigger a chain of programmed actions; those that went into designing a birthday card.

Mudit was gone for a while. When he returned, he had in his hand a beautiful greeting card conveying birthday greetings to Lord Mahavir––perhaps the first ever birthday greeting card that the Lord had ever received.

Mudit Greetings 2 Mahavir Swami

Any reason is a good reason for creativity.

A Boat, a Real Boat and a Yacht

He was rankled. He was a member of a group of two families travelling together in the Intercity Express from Hazrat Nizamuddin to Indore. The ladies of the group were discussing a wedding they were returning from. The gentlemen were busy discussing the prospects of the return of BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Sitting opposite, I was a passive participant. Two toddlers were sleeping on the top berths.

This little kid (about five) was dying of boredom. “Where are your sketch pens? Why don’t you draw something?” The boy’s mother coerced him. The boy frowned and continued to sulk.

Wanting to steer clear of the inconsequential discussion, I turned towards the boy to try my skill at engaging children. “What is your name?”

He mumbled something, which I could not decipher. In any case, I wasn’t interested in knowing his name. But I had succeeded in getting him to talk––the first major step towards negotiating a deal.

“Which school do you study in? What class…” The boy, nudged by his parents kept answering in monosyllables. His body language suggested that he was least interested in the conversation. He was under pressure from his parents to be polite.

“Shall I make a boat for you?” I threw the first bait,

“I know how to make a boat.” He snubbed me. He sounded like he had just scored a match point. Although, my proposal had fallen flat, this time the boy seemed more involved in the conversation.

“But the boat I make, looks real; it is not like the one they teach in schools.” There was silence. He became more attentive. With alacrity in his heart and reluctance on his face he gave me the honour to craft a real boat for him.

He looked intently as I folded a paper to make a real boat. By the time, I finished making the boat, a smile had returned to his face. Very gleefully he accepted my creation. The parents, who were monitoring the gradual taming of the boy, were impressed.

“I can make a yacht too. Shall I make one?”

This time he nodded a clear ‘yes’ with a broad smile.

The mSlide1aking of a yacht was interrupted by a phone call from my sister conveying birthday wishes to me (it happened to be my birthday). People around me also came to know and wished me, and so did the little boy. The kid was delighted to get the yacht. With a real boat in one hand and a yacht in the other, the little Columbus went sailing across the imaginary sea that surrounded him. The cheer that my real boat and thimg_1806-2.jpge yacht got to the little boy was a big reward for me. With that I sank into my half-solved Sudoku. I was oblivious of a greater reward coming my way. After playing with the boat and the yacht for a while, the boy sketched a colourful birthday card and presented it to me as I got up to disembark at Ujjain. My day was made!

Sometimes it takes a little Origami to engage a child.

On Doodhoo and Bickies

Learning a language to express oneself, English language in particular, is an important first step in our lives in India. Parents do everything possible so that their little ones learn to speak soon. Really soon. It is an obsession––a natural response to the need to master a skill that would enable smooth sail later in life.

As young parents, Chhaya and I observed others teaching their little ones to speak. They would use words that did not exist in dictionaries. For example: doodhoo for doodh (Hindi for milk); ta-ta for hot; kitchtchy for a kiss and bicky for biscuit… the list is long. No sooner did children learn those invented words it was time to start unlearning them and learn the right words to convey the same thoughts. Parents would say, “Sunny, it is not doodhoo, it is doodh; not bicky but biscuit etc.

Toddlers would go through a cycle of learning words; unlearning them and then, learning the appropriate words. Both kids and the parents paid a cost in terms of time and effort involved in the little ones being able to communicate meaningfully.

In our son, Mudit’s case we leapfrogged this step of teaching/ learning by making a deliberate effort to use the right word in the first instance. Thus Mudit picked up fairly decent diction right in the beginning.

Building vocabulary was a parallel process. We helped Mudit learn new words. On his part, he made use of his limited vocabulary to his best advantage. Once when he wanted a hammer and did not know the word for it, he said. “Papa, please give me a nail-pusher.” I was reminded of a 1970 Dustin Hoffman starrer, Little Big Man in which one of the characters says: “I have pain between my ears,” to convey that he had a headache.

Years later, when I was doing a certificate course in French language, our professor posed a question that had a binary answer in a “yes” or a “no”. I do not remember the exact question but it was like: “Are you an Indian?”. The student, who stood up to answer, gave a nod. It was just a nod, a universally accepted expression for “Y-E-S.” On his response, which looked comical the class burst out laughing because everyone expected him to say (in French): “Yes Sir, I am an Indian.” When the laughter died down, on a serious note our professor said that the purpose of learning a language is to be able to convey ideas and to get a feedback or a confirmation or an answer. A nod was as good as an answer formed with half a dozen words. “Do not lose sight of the aim of learning anything,” he said.

As a child Mudit, also learnt that a picture was worth a thousand words. Once we left him home playing with a friend. On our return we found the front door of the house closed and latched. Stuck in the door-handle was a rather longish message that read: “Papa, Vaibhav and I are in Vaibhav’s house…” It was enough need-to-know information for me at that moment. Therefore, I would not have read the complete message, which read further, “Please meet us before you open the door…. There is a snake in the house.” What drew my attention to the rest of the message was the drawing of a snake made prominently in the lower half of the note. Thanks to Mudit’s warning (drawing), the snake was removed and the house was secured. None was harmed.

Fast-forward a dozen years and more. It is a treat seeing Vilasini, our grandniece––based in Geneva with a Tamil-speaking father and a Hindi-speaking mother––effortlessly switching between Hindi, English, Tamil and French. And Kartik, our grandnephew (in the tutelage of his grandmother and parents), conversing in intelligible Hindi/ English and reciting Shlokas in Sanskrit.

In a fast shrinking world, ability to convey ideas will be power of sorts.

Sweet home is the university where education on effective communication begins.