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.

Question of a Sabbatical

Another page from my dateless Delhi diary…

The date and the year are of less consequence; it was a hot April afternoon. I saw the three of them walking on the footpath in Subroto Park and offered them a lift. They got into the car hesitantly.

“Thank you Sir. I am Ravindra Sharma, he is my brother Navin and he is my son, Ajay (names changed),” one of them broke the ice as they settled in the car.

“I am Group Captain Ashok Chordia,” I introduced myself and asked, “Where do you want to go?”

“We have to board a train from Nizamuddin railway Station. It will be kind of you, if you could leave us at the nearest bust stop on your way,” he urged.

“The Station is on my way. I’ll leave you there.”

“So nice of you, sir.”

Then there was prolonged silence. The three sat quietly, perhaps not knowing what to talk about. I have experienced this type of a mix of reticent and introverted behaviour on the part of simple people in the presence of strangers. In the presence of service officers, the behaviour seems to be more pronounced.

It was going to be a fairly long (15 kms) drive along the Inner Ring Road and was going to take in excess of 30 minutes. Silence with four people sitting in the car would be menacing.

“You don’t seem to belong to Delhi?” I initiated a polite meaningless conversation.

“Sir, we belong to Kota. We were here for a counselling session for Ajay.”

“How was it? What does your son intend doing?”

“Just so. I am disappointed with his board exams result,” said the father with concern.

“What’s the matter?”

Books“Sir, he has scored 94 per cent marks. He just doesn’t read. If he studies properly, he can get more marks. He wants to do engineering. Why don’t you advise him, please?”

My jaw dropped. “Here is a father dissatisfied with his son scoring enviable marks, and he wants me to guide him? What advice do I render a kid who in my assessment is brilliant,” I wondered.

I did not want to disappoint the father so I continued talking. In a while I realised that the boy was very intelligent and could understand concepts rather fast. Therefore he used to take less time as compared to others to complete his assignments. Repetition used to bore him and that’s where his ideas conflicted with his father.

With much thought I came out with a piece of advice to him, “If you read more books of each subject you will have a deeper understanding of the concepts. Solving question papers and numerical problems from different books will give you a strong base. Lastly, if you still have time, devote it to improving your communication skills––an effort that will stand you in good stead, what ever you do later in life.” All three were listening to me intently.

“Sir, I’ll do as you have suggested,” assured Ajay.

“That’s good. You are capable of better performance and must try to exploit your ability to grasp things fast to broaden your knowledge base and communication skills.”

The father was happy with the interaction. At the railway station, I took him aside and advised him to give a freer hand to the boy to manage his studies. I told him that meddling with his approach to academics might be counter-productive.

The chapter was over, I thought.

Not really!

A month later, I received a call from Ravindra, “Sir, you have cast a magic spell on my son. He is a transformed being now. I want to thank you for making a difference.”

“I am happy to hear that. I hope he continues to work that way. Convey my good wishes to him.” We exchanged some niceties before disconnecting.

It was not over yet.

A few months later, I received another call from Ravindra, which put me in a very difficult situation. “Sir, I am in dire need of your advice. Ajay wants to take a sabbatical and prepare for IIT entrance examination. If he doesn’t get through, a year will be wasted. What shall we do?”

In a few seconds which seemed to last an eternity, I gave a thought to Ravindra’s request for advice. I realised that he had called me with great hope. I found it difficult to turn down his request. But then, what advice could I give him?

I collected my thoughts and organised them in the few seconds in which we exchanged less important information. Then I started, “Ravindra, our lifespan is 75 to 80 years if we lead a decent life. One year in a lifespan of 75-80 years is a small fraction; it is insignificant. If you allow, Ajay to have his way, he will put in his heart and soul in the preparation and, in all probability, he’ll get through. It will be great if that happens. If he doesn’t get through, the hard work that he puts in through the year will not go a waste. The knowledge that he will gain, will stand him in good stead in whichever college he joins subsequently. Besides, if he doesn’t make it to the IIT, he will come to know of his limitations. One last thing… if you let him take a sabbatical wholeheartedly and support him in his endeavour, without bothering about the end result, he will love and respect you more than he does now. I feel he deserves your willing support.” Ravindra thanked me profoundly for sharing my thoughts.

For the next few months, I waited eagerly to hear from him. There was silence.

Much later, when I had forgotten everything, Ravindra called me again. It was a courtesy call. “How do you do, Sir!? All’s well here. Ajay is doing very well. He’ll be an engineer soon. He joins me in conveying regards to you for all the valuable advice you gave us.”

“That’s heartening. What about the sabbatical? Did he take it? Did he get through to IIT?” I was curious to know.

“Sir, I gave him a free hand; told him to go ahead and take a sabbatical and prepare for IIT. But then he decided against it. He got admission in a college of his choice and a course of his liking. I’ll keep you posted of his progress.”

Ravindra has been calling me occasionally to share his little joys.

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.

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.

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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.