Kanti Learns Power Play

It had become a norm, an unwritten custom that on Sunday afternoons, in the hot summers, all the children would get together in Veena’s house. It was to everyone’s advantage. Veena’s parents were happy that their only child had company. The other parents were happy that their little ones were not outdoors in the sun. The kids were happy for more reasons than one. The many toys and games that Veena had were, of course, an attraction but the main reason for them to make a beeline to her house was the rickety air cooler that provided respite from the sweltering heat. Their own homes were devoid of that luxury. Besides, Veena’s mother was generous with the distribution of Rawalgaon toffees and Parle biscuits. She even gave them half a glass of Roof Afza with two ice cubes each.

Since it was Veena’s home and she owned the toys, she wielded authority too in the form of decision to play Ludo or Snakes and Ladders or any other game on a given day. It was so natural––Kanti exercised similar authority when they played with his football and Dilip, when his cricket kit was in use.

One afternoon, Veena decided in favour of playing Ludo. They were about to draw lots to get their choice of colour of the tiles. Yellow was the most coveted colour––Dilip had won on the last four occasions with that colour of tiles. Just when they were about to begin, a power failure caused an interruption. On enquiry by Veena’s father, the supervisor on duty in the local powerhouse informed that there was a minor fault and that it would be rectified in about fifteen minutes.

For the four of them raring to start, time was precious. If only the misery of the l-o-n-g delay of the quarter of an hour could be mitigated. So, to make the wait interesting, Veena came up with a bright idea. She said, “Let’s take turns to count from 1 to 100. One, during whose turn the power supply is restored, will get the first choice of colour.”

Veena’s idea sent the little minds on quick errands. Now, here was some hope of getting the choice of colour. With “yellow” and the possibility-of-a-win in mind, each one worked out a quick plan to exploit the opportunity. “One, two, three… ninety-eight, ninety-nine, hundred,” they began counting in turns. Dilip was first. Jyoti, Kanti and Veena, in that order, followed. They weren’t sure whether to count slowly, or fast.

When it was Veena’s turn, she came up with a stratagem. She said that she would employ the services of Ramu to count. Ramu was the man Friday in Veena’s house. He was a couple of years older than these children. When objected by the other three, Veena presented a logic, which they were forced to accept, grudgingly. “He is our servant. My father pays him and my mother gives him food and clothes. I surely have the right to get any work done by him. Aren’t servants meant for that purpose?” So Ramu rattled the numbers for Veena.

Games Children Play

Each one took several turns. Veena ‘managed’ to get her fourth turn around the time when the power supply was likely to be restored. In that instance she signalled Raju to count slowly. “…, f-i-f-t-y-… s-e-v-e-n, f-i-f-t-y-… e-i-g-h-t, …,” the poor boy obeyed his master’s daughter. And lo, the power supply was restored when Raju was counting in the seventies. With that, Veena won the opportunity to choose the colour of the tiles to play with.

As everyone expected, she chose the most coveted yellow coloured tiles. But to their great surprise, she lost the game. Dilip, with red tiles, won.

All wasn’t over yet for Kanti when the game of Ludo got over at Veena’s.

He returned home, upset and disheartened with Veena taking undue advantage of the power she wielded because of her father. Anil, his father had to invent reasoning to calm him. “Kanti, just see, Veena lost even though she took Ramu’s help. If she continues to take help, I am afraid her own counting and arithmetic will become poor. Some day when Raju would be away for some reasons, she might not be able to compete with you all.”

Kanti kept nodding but was seemingly unconvinced. His mind was running on a different track, “Dad, can we have many servants so that I am able to get my mundane chores done by them and am able to devote my time to doing more important things.”

“Of course, we can have many servants. But to have many servants we need a lot of money to pay them. And where does a lot of money come from? Well, to earn a lot of money, one must work hard in life. If you study well and work hard, some day you’ll become and entrepreneur and have your own enterprise; you’ll have a lot of money and many servants to do your work,”

Anil was under the impression that that was the end of the chapter. On the contrary, the idea of earning a lot of money had got deeply embedded in Kanti’s mind. Hereafter, he would look for every opportunity to do just that. And one day, not too far in the future, he would come up with a business E-N-T-E-R-P-R-I-S-E” which would put Anil in a spin.

The Red Marble & Thieves

I guess you remember Kanti, the little entrepreneur who wanted to make a fortune by growing lemons on his head.

So, without ado, I bring you here another episode from his eventful childhood. It might evoke different emotions in you––from humour to sympathy to indifference––depending on what strikes your imagination.

But, for Kanti it was a traumatic experience. Read on…

One evening, Kanti came charging into the house and began rummaging the only drawer he was assigned in a chest of drawers to keep his belongings. It was a little beyond his reach even when he stood on the tips of his toes; he had to climb a stool to reach it. That inability to access his drawer was one of the main reasons he wanted to grow tall, really soon. And, that was the reason he accepted everything his mother gave him. “Eat it; it’ll help you grow tall,” she would say.

Kanti grew desperate as he looked for something, which seemed to evade his eyes. In a last ditch effort, he pulled out the full drawer, the weight of which, his tiny frame couldn’t bear. And, lo and behold, he lost balance and fell to the ground with a massive thud. All his toys came tumbling out––three cars, two tennis balls, crayons, pencils, a kaleidoscope, a piece of coloured glass, a top, Ludo and Snakes & Ladders board and a dozen other things.

“Maaa… heelppp!” Kanti yelled as he fell.

“What happened?” Maya, a concerned mother ran out of the kitchen in response to the distress call of her little one. She was aghast at the sight of Kanti lying spread-eagled on the floor facing the roof, a bit dazed; the drawer see-sawing on his little chest and a dozen and more marbles still traversing different paths on the floor in the hope of finding a state of equilibrium.

“Oh my God!” She staggered, “What happened? I hope you aren’t hurt, my child!?” She enquired with great concern even as she stepped on a marble and tripped and tumbled. Only a heavenly intervention enabled her to grasp the arm of a dining chair and avoid a fall. In one quick action she removed the drawer from Kanti’s chest and helped him on his feet.

“I’m fine,” said Kanti. But a face contorted by a spasm of pain, and a clearly visible limp in his gait gave away his actual condition.

“What happened,” was the repeated question, the doting mother asked as she hugged him and looked for signs of injuries.”

“Nothing really!” said Kanti. “I was looking for a red marble.”

“Now Kanti, you could have waited for me, as you always do. I would have helped you with it.”

“But you were in the kitchen and I was in too great a hurry. I couldn’t have waited.”

“Couldn’t have waited…. What do you mean?” Maya distorted her eyebrows to lay stress on the questions.

Unmindful of Maya’s concern, Kanti started picking up the marbles strewn on the floor. He was still looking for the ‘red’ marble.

Maya gave a glass of water to Kanti who still appeared hassled. “Tell me, what is the matter? And, look there. Yes there, under the chair. There’s your ‘red’ marble.” Maya said as she pointed at it.

The Red Marble

Greatly relieved, Kanti picked up the ‘red’ marble and pocketed it. He then hugged her mother tightly (Shashi Tharoor would rather have called the hug, a “kwtch”. A “kwtch” is more than a hug).

“Maa, you have saved me from ending up in prison.” His eyes welled and a tear rolled down his little pink cheek.

Maya’s face wore a big question mark.

“It’s like this… This morning I was playing marbles with Dinesh when he was called by his mother. He quit the game but left his red marble in a hope to re-join soon. But he did not return. So I picked up all the marbles and returned home. I carried his “red” marble too, to hand it over to him later.”

Curiosity was killing Maya: “Ending up in Jail? Red marble? What was going on in Kanti’s mind?”

Kanti continued with the seriousness of a grown up.

“Just a while ago, when I was playing outside with Veena (remember Veena? Kanti’s cousin of his age, and his living encyclopaedia of worldly knowledge) we saw a policeman passing by. In his tow was a handcuffed man. Veena told me that he was a thief being taken to the jail where he would be kept away from his family and friends for many days. She told me that a thief is a person who takes away someone else’s belongings without the owner’s consent. She also told me that…”

“Of course, thieves get punished. So how does that bother you?” Maya was impatient and wouldn’t let Kanti complete his story.

“I have taken Dinesh’s red marble without his consent. I am afraid the police will jail me for being a thief. I don’t want to be away from you and Dad,” sobbed Kanti.

“Oh my dear. You are not a thief. You have taken the marble only to help your friend. Thieves take away things with bad intention; not to return them,” Maya allayed Kanti’s anxiety. “Now go and handover the marble to Dinesh.”

Kanti was panting when he returned from Dinesh’s house. Maya smiled at him. “So that’s the end of it.” She thought.

She couldn’t have been more wrong.

Later, in the evening at the dinner table the three––Kanti, Anil (his father) and Maya––exchanged notes on how each spent the day. That was the family’s way of unwinding every day. Maya was the first one to speak. She had nothing to talk about her day. So she told Anil about the red marble and Kanti’s woe that afternoon. She chuckled as she shared the incident. Anil struggled to hold back the impulse to smile at the story when he saw a quiet Kanti lost in some thoughts.

“So Kanti, did you return the red marble to Dinesh,” Anil asked Kanti to get him involved in the conversation.

“Yes Dad, I did… and Dinesh was happy to get it back.” Kanti still wore a blank look. His discomfiture couldn’t escape Anil’s eyes.

“Is there something still troubling you, Kanti?” Anil poured all the tenderness that a caring father could in that question.

“Dad, Veena told me a lot of things about the thieves and the jail. She told me how they make the inmates clean, sweep and work hard in the jail. The police even shave off their heads.” Anil was all ears, nodding occasionally as he absorbed Kanti’s bits.

Then Kanti paused and looked around as if to make sure that no one else was listening. Once assured of the privacy, he brought his mouth close to his father’s ear and started talking in a hushed tone. “And Dad, do you know…?” He glanced around the room again and spoke in a whisper, “We are surrounded by thieves! Brij Mohan Bhaiya (the milkman), Ramu Bhaiya (the dhobi), and… even Ramesh Uncle (Major Ramesh, a friend of Anil)––all of them have shaven heads. As Veena said, they must have served sentences in the jail.”

Rest of Anil’s evening, and the following weekend was spent in convincing Kanti that all men with shaven heads were not thieves. Anil realised how easy it was to teach a child a new thing rather than erase things from its tender mind.

Chocolates, Child & An Attractive Offer

Jim studies in a school. All children do. But his school is a school with a difference, where four R’s (the fourth ‘R’ being learning by rote) are not a part of a curriculum. Education is imparted in a rather unique way. When a child sees an aeroplane and asks a question, he is told about the flying machine and is waylaid (“waylaid,” seems to be an inappropriate word; “encouraged,” might be a better choice) to ask more questions. Sometimes the learning that starts from an aeroplane covers gliders, helicopters, fighter aircraft, sky, clouds, eagles, butterflies, flowers, colours, Wright Brothers, parachutes… literally everything that possibly strikes a child’s imagination in any direction. The teacher makes use of every tool in her bag to kindle the child’s imagination. Like in this case, she resorts to origami to make a paper aircraft, and she makes use of drawing to sketch a colourful butterfly.

Origami

The parents get educated too, and take charge at home. “Never say, NO to a child,” is the one thing they bear in mind always.

The other day, Jim received some chocolates from his uncle, forty of them in a box, and wanted to eat all of them instantly. An interesting conversation ensued. A lifetime of education is sandwiched between two of Jim’s utterances to William, his father: ‘Dad I want to eat all the chocolates now’ and ‘Dad, I don’t want to eat all the chocolates now.’ Here goes the conversation:

Jim: “Dad, I want to eat all the chocolates now. I like them so much. Please, Dad.”

William: “Can you eat them all? How many are there? Count!”

“One, two, three, … 39.” [Jim’s counting skill gets exercised.]

“Good! You ate one at noon. What’s the time now?”

“The hour hand is between five and six and the minute hand is at six,” Jim scratches his chin. “Hmm! It’s half past five.” [Jim gets practice in reading the hands of a clock and telling time.]

“Very good, indeed! I like that. I am so happy, you can now tell me the time. Here’s another chocolate for you.” [Jim feels victorious. He feels proud of his achievement. Happily he removes the wrapper and pops the chocolate in his mouth.]

“Is it sticky,” asks William, and without waiting for an answer, continues, “You know Jim, chocolate sticking between the teeth can cause tooth decay. Do you remember Tom (Jim’s friend) visiting the clinic with toothache?”

“But I brush my teeth twice everyday, and I’ll do it without fail even today.” [Jim re-commits himself to good hygiene.]

“How many chocolates would be left if I give you two more?”

“Thirty-six.” [Arithmetic again.]

“Do you know how many days would thirty-six chocolates last if you eat four chocolates every day,” William asked Jim raising his hands and gesturing as if the remaining stock of chocolates would last an eternity.

“Hmm! I don’t know?” [Jim concedes ground but is lured by William’s gesture into finding out: “How many days?”]

“Let’s see.”

Chocolates & Arithmetic

William gets a sheet of drawing paper and nudges Jim to draw several coloured boxes using sketch pens and a ruler. He makes Jim number them too. [Jim is excited getting to use his Dad’s sketch pens and ruler. He learns to draw squares using the ruler. Then William makes Jim place four chocolates in the area marked by each coloured box on the drawing sheet. He makes the little one count the boxes that are filled with chocolates––each box signifying a day.]

“Those chocolates will last me nine days if I have four a day.” [It was a ‘Eureka’ moment for Jim. He was excited at arriving at that mathematical conclusion. William cheered the little boy, “Oh my God! Those chocolates will last you nine days!” There was extra emphasis on, “N-I-N-E.”]

Doll for Ann

“Besides, you’ll have sufficient chocolates to share with Ann (Jim’s cousin) when she visits us over the weekend. I’ll also make some dolls for Ann using the chocolate wrappers. Do you want to enjoy the chocolates for N-I-N-E (even more emphasis) days, share them with Ann and present her some dolls too,” William proposed. [The offer was too attractive for Jim to decline.]

“Dad, I don’t want to eat all those chocolates now.”

[Jim’s chocolates lasted more than a week. More importantly, he was mighty happy sharing some with Ann.]

[Note: This story was narrated to me by my nephew, Abhinav Goyal.] [For Abhinav: Thanks dear, for sharing that story. Please excuse the shortcomings in narration.]

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.

IMG_3986

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.

 IMG_3958.jpg

“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.