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.  

 

 

“Now a Silver Medal is Assured!”

This post is inspired by a caption, which appeared in a newspaper supplement and drew my attention. It read: I had prepared for the Asian Games, but didn’t expect to win. Why would a sportsperson enter a competition undetermined to win? The individual might have genuine personal reasons for being less hopeful. But I believe that the environment also kindles and fans this type of hopelessness.

TOI I did not hope to win

I have heard coaches encouraging their trainees thus: “Haar kar mat aana,” meaning “Don’t lose and come.” And parents saying: “Win at least a medal.” Why are we so shy of even desiring to win? Perhaps with the following words of encouragement they would stand a better chance of returning victorious: “Guys you have toiled for this day. Elements of the universe are aligned in your favour. Now go for the Gold!”

The media, both print and electronic, have their way of reporting sporting events. Here is a standard line they use to report the entry of an individual (or a team) into the finals of an event:

“Satbir Singh has reached the finals of the Men’s Badminton. Now he is assured of a Silver Medal.”

Although this is truthful reporting, but it lacks the nudge that can possibly encourage a sportsperson to give that last bit in him/ her to win. If I were a media-person, I would tweak the same report to read thus:

“Satbir Singh has entered (mind you, not “reached”) the final round of the Men’s Badminton. He is now a step closer to the coveted Gold Medal” or “He’ll now fight for the Gold.”

Similar tweaking in the reporting of events in other walks of our daily lives can bring about a pleasant change in the way we start our days. That is a subject of another post, another day.

Tipping the Fear of the Unknown

“Aren’t you scared abandoning a perfectly well flying aircraft mid-air? How did you feel when you made the first parachute jump? What motivated you to volunteer for such a perilous duty?” I have been asked those questions, and the like, umpteen times since I qualified as a Parachute Jump Instructor (PJI) at the prestigious Paratroopers’ Training School, Agra way back in the October of 1982.

I have trained hundreds of jumpers, including the NCC cadets. Individuals undertake parachute jumps for different reasons. Some want to prove a point––to themselves, to others, to the world. Some do it for adventure. Many in the army do it for the lure of the Maroon Beret and the paratrooper’s brevet––by far the most coveted insignia on a military uniform. The saying goes: “On the eighth day God created the paratroopers and the devil stood at attention.”

I knew little about PJI duties when I volunteered for selection for such a job. I was newly commissioned and posted as a logistics officer at an Equipment Depot in Devlali. Flight Lieutenant UR Rao, a PJI himself, was a role model for us youngsters. He said that it was a wonderful life as a PJI; we would get a glimpse of it during the selection process. “In any case, you’ll be able to see the Taj Mahal when you go to Agra,” he used to chuckle.

My training at Sainik School Rewa and the National Defence Academy, saw me through the tough selection. During the process, we were taken for an air experience in the Packet aircraft (an aircraft of WW II vintage). “The noise and the vibrations of this aircraft might be enough to force a person to bail out,” I wondered.

The toughening phase commenced on the following New Year’s Day (1982). Even in the biting cold and foggy winter of Agra, by 7 am, one could squeeze half a litre of sweat from our jerseys. There was no compromise. We were being trained to undertake assignments that would involve lives––on our actions would depend the safety of scores of paratroopers.

The training for the Para Basic Course lasted 12 days. Following an aptitude test we were ready for the first jump.

“Why the heavens did I opt for this?” That question hit me hard as the aft end door was opened over the drop zone and I was made to take position at the edge. It was scary standing in the open door of an aircraft flying at 225 kmph at a height of 1250 feet above the ground level. I wondered if I was better off as a logistics officer back in Devlali.

“Why? Why? Why?” The fear of the unknown was gnawing at my confidence. There were 30 seconds for the “G-R-E-E-N” signal to come on.

Turning back or looking back would amount to a weak resolve on my part––I had a decent opinion of myself. I couldn’t let myself down. Nonetheless, I managed a furtive glance into the aircraft. Standing behind me were four jawans, also ready to take their first plunge. They were quiet, absolutely quiet. Their faces were open books. Perhaps each was fighting a battle within. They were looking up to me to lead. I couldn’t have let them down.

I had found my trigger to go ahead.

Someone in the line hailed, “Chhatri Mata ki Jai!

“Green ON… G-O,” barked the despatcher.

Like a bullet I threw myself out of the aircraft. The parachute opened before I could count: “One thousand, two thousand, th-r-e-e…” The winds were gentle. On landing, the parachute collapsed like a pricked balloon. It was an experience of a lifetime. I smiled at my pre-jump apprehensions.

In the following years, as an instructor I always allayed the anxiety of my trainees by telling them that jumping from an aircraft was safer than crossing roads in Delhi.”

It takes right trigger to overcome the fear of the unknown.

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Hunger Pangs at Night

It was nearing midnight when Chhaya Chordia completed her round of the hostels. She was the Director (Hostels) and resided on the campus of Amity University, Noida. Random visits were her way of feeling the pulse of the hostels. They gave her insights into the problems of the students. Sometimes she would come across pranksters or stumble upon cases of indiscipline. Then there were cases, which belonged to the grey zone––one would wonder whether or not to treat them as flouting of norms. In over a dozen years in the business, she had developed a knack of resolving the issues of the young adults.

Today was a day when she would use that knack.

The wardens and the assistant wardens had submitted their ‘All Correct’ reports. There was silence in the corridors. Most students had gone to sleep; some were studying and some others were netsurfing. Occasionally, a student would step out to fill a bottle of drinking water. Peace prevailed.

Chhaya stepped out of the hostel to return to her residence when she saw someone walking towards the hostel. He had a carry-bag in his hand. She hailed him.

“Who are you?”

“Ma’am, I am Amit Sharma (name changed). I am…”

“You are II Year B Tech Biotech student,” Chhaya cut him short. “You are supposed to be in your room. What are you doing here on the road at this unearthly hour?

“Ma’am, I fell asleep in the evening and couldn’t eat my dinner in the cafeteria. So I ordered food from the dhaba across the road. I have just collected the stuff from gate number 4A.”

“Didn’t the guard on duty stop you?”

“He wasn’t there. He had gone to the loo when I collected the food packet.”

“You are a II Year student. You are fully aware that outside food is not allowed on the campus. Why then did you order food from the dhaba? Don’t you know that consuming food obtained from these roadside vendors can lead to food poisoning?”

“I’m sorry Ma’am. I was very hungry and every outlet in the food-court was closed. I promise, it will not repeat”

“There is no reason that I can allow you to consume this food. Please throw it into that garbage bin. And don’t repeat it.”

Amit complied grudgingly.

“Which is your room?”

“Room number 2 LGF in Hostel-6.”

“Now go back to your room and see me in my office at 11:00 am tomorrow.”

“Good night, Ma’am.”

Amit walked back towards the hostel gate as Chhaya headed for her residence. On her way she called the attendant on duty. “Malati, come to my residence right away.”

Back at her residence, Chhaya took out some food from the refrigerator and heated it. IMG_4039She baked some chapatis. Then laying out the food on a tray, she told the attendant, “Malati, take this to room number 2 LGF of Boys’ Hostel-6. Amit Sharma is the name of the student.

At 11:00 am in the Hostel Office.

Amit walked in and touched Chhaya’s, “Last night I had returned to my room much annoyed with you. I’m so sorry. We have always seen you as a strict disciplinarian. Never knew about this trait of yours.” A tear rolled down his cheek as he added, “You are a godmother.”

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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