Poetry Contest

Kayla Ann is holding a poetry contest. I entered and submitted the poem I wrote while at Bekal last year.

KaylaAnn

Are you a poet? Do you enjoy writing poems until your heart is sore or until it soars?

Well, I happen to LOVE reading poetry so I would like to hold a poetry contest! Read the rules and prizes below!

Rules:

  • To be eligible for this competition you must be subscribed to my page (i.e. following and receiving emails.) Not subscribed yet? No worries! Go to my home screen and click FOLLOW (I’ll receive a notification when you do :D)
  • Leave your poem or a link to your chosen poem in the comments below.
  • I will be using a point system to chose the winner:
    • You will receive 5 points automatically for subscribing (everyone must subscribe to be eligible)
    • You will receive another 2 points for sharing the contest on your your own blog and linking back
    • Your poem will be rated on a 1-10 scale based on creativity…

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A house with many stories

It finally started to rain on our last day in Kirchzarten and it was cold and wet right from when we woke up. We have enough sunshine back home to appreciate cold,drizzly days in a way that Europeans don’t!

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The eagle flew down to its nest on top of the church going in an instant from menacing to maternal!

But though we appreciated the weather, this posed a challenge since we had to pick up our rental cars before driving off to Sankt Blasien where we were to stay in Villa Ferrette. My original plan for the summer holidays this year had been to rent a villa in Engelberg, Switzerland and spend our days hiking and cooking in and generally enjoying the beautiful outdoors. What we finally did was the usual criss-cross through multiple cities and the consequent barrage of new experiences. But I was insistent on this – at least one part of our holiday had to be in a house in a small and pretty hillside town. And Villa Ferrette it was.

I mentioned before that my favourite stay of all had been at Apt Stone Lodge, Salzburg. This is certainly true but the most interesting of all places has to be this one. We had booked on airbnb and my conversations with the homeowner before, led me to expect a spacious and comfortable home.

What I had not bargained for was a huge mansion with a hundred year old history!

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I am not sure I remember the whole story, and you should probably hear it from Marc (the owner), sitting on the couch in the Villa Ferrette living room as the cold winds howl outside, but the house is a hundred years old and the most significant house in the neighbourhood. Sort  of a manor house, if you will. While it has been completely renovated, including the stained glass which one might have supposed to be really old, a lot of the wooden paneling is original. So you are strictly not supposed to smoke indoors since it will set off a fire alarm summoning police and fire fighters and be a super costly affair!

For all its history, this house has always been free of Nazi influence. In fact after World War II, this building housed 100 orphans. The woman who ran the place worked tirelessly through the day and only had a few hours every day, after midnight, that were for her children alone. No one else was allowed in her part of the house at that time. I was so touched to hear this story! No amount of charity can make up for what we do to our own children at home and striking a balance is always more difficult for a mother.

At one point, this house also served as a rehab frequented by Hollywood celebrities! I will not mention names since I have no idea about privacy laws but it was a very La La Land moment for me.

While we were listening to these stories, one of us asked if any other Indians had ever stayed here. It seems they had, and they had come in a big van and had Indian food catered every day. Just as I was about to ask Marc if could give us the caterer’s phone number, our self-styled Phd friend scoffed, Indians need to eat Indian food everyday – no matter where they are giving me a dirty look as he did so. Does he  read minds now as well?

Our agenda for this trip was roaming around the Black Forest area and we used the Villa Ferrette exactly as we would have any other BnB but for people who are not on a short trip and have the time and space and contentment to stick around in one place instead of dashing about here and there, this is a great place to be. There are two pianos, one of which you can use, a great collection of music and movies and a projector room in the attic which you can use for group gatherings. Rather fun if you have planned that sort of trip. We do that sort of thing in Ooty and Goa.

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Finally, the practical tips: If you are staying in Sankt Blasien, do check out the beautiful church in town. Also, you would probably need a car – the nearest bus station is a good twenty minute drive away. It is a small place and you don’t have a wide variety of restaurants. The food is strictly local. That said, it is pretty and very close to the Swiss border. In fact, we took a cab down to Zurich from here when we had to fly back.

 

“And nobody shall pour dung, straw, stone into the Bäch…”

Freiburg

Continuing with my tardy Europe recollections, after our cuckoo clock adventures we had planned to take the children to Europa Park. But things panned out differently. We were down to our last set of clothes and Kirchzarten possessed no laundries. We had no choice but to skip the park and spend the day in Freiburg instead. So with a rucksack full of dirty clothes and two sulky children, we took the train down.

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Freiburg is the nearest city to Kirchzarten and is a university town. I had read on the net that it was a city rich in culture and heritage, besides being notably environment friendly. None of this background had prepared me for anything nearly as beautiful.


The dirty laundromat

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The walk down from the station to our chosen laundromat passed through tree lined streets and storm water drains. Wash and Art was an interesting place. We didn’t realize how much at first in all the sorting and getting change. The kids didn’t either – having discovered free wifi, but the ‘Art’ in Wash and Art refers to the artistic but risque photography that adorns its walls. As soon as we were done admiring the fresh smelling east german laundry detergent, we became aware of our surroundings and briskly shepherded our offspring out. There was a homeless man just outside and my husband was a little worried about the clothes but really he was too tall to fit into any of our stuff.

Why are there so many homeless people in Europe? Especially young, able bodied white men. This man looked like a junkie although one shouldn’t judge, but apart from that what is the reason? It seems like such a prosperous place!


The lady in the park

We took our boys to a nearby park to while away our time. Europa Park it was not, but we enjoyed the peace and quiet very much. Freiburg seemed like a safe enough place that we didn’t need to watch the kids all the time. They had fun running and climbing while we were content to sit back, look around and chat. There were a few other families who’d brought their kids in on cycles with child carriers attached. My husband was interested in the design of the cycle carriers and impressed by the abundance of cyclists and the absence of cars.

As for me, my attention had been caught by a woman sitting on a park bench, eating a lonely lunch. This was the second instance in a short span of time of someone looking miserable in such a beautiful place. Was she a teacher in the university or a shopkeeper? Maybe someone who sold books to the students there? A librarian? She had a canvas backpack of the sort you lug around college but she looked out of place in this young town.

Now you can be just as lonely in a crowd as all by yourself and the two have no correlation at all. But right then, I was thankful for our crowded, intrusive, inquisitive, annoying and omnipresent Indian families.


The woman from Bengal

There was a marketplace in the city center and a few of our friends who don’t have children had elected to spend the day there. We met up with them for lunch and my adventurous younger one (who had asked to eat wild boar like Obelix in Prague) ordered schnitzel. I have only ever heard of schnitzel in ‘My Favourite Things’ and it looked nothing like how I’d pictured it.

Our friends regaled us with stories about the fruits,  flowers, vegetables and souvenirs at the farmers market that was winding up before our eyes. They told us about a souvenir stall they had shopped at. Among the other things they’d bought was a wooden chopping board which they had had engraved with their names. Wooden curios seem to be ubiquitous in this part of Germany but the seller of the curios was a rarer sort by half. She had come to cold Black Forest from the balmy plains of Bengal as a child. She had been away such a long time but meeting Indians, and those who could speak her language had seemed to fill her with joy. It was such a small encounter. A chance encounter. But the few words spoken in a shared tongue had brightened up the day for all of them.

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Roaming the market place after lunch, we discovered the Bächle. Small canals with clean water flowing through them. From Wikipedia –

These Bächle, once used to provide water to fight fires and feed livestock, are constantly flowing with water diverted from the Dreisam. They were never intended to be used for sewage, and even in the Middle Ages such use could lead to harsh penalties. During the summer, the running water provides natural cooling of the air, and offers a pleasant gurgling sound. It is said that if one accidentally falls or steps into a Bächle, they will marry a Freiburger, or ‘Bobbele’.

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On a more practical note, I found these cosmetics in a store that were ridiculously cheap and the brand is unheard of in India. So if you have a large family back home you need to bring things back for, this is just what the doctor ordered. Although the brown eyeliner didn’t show up much on my brown skin.

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The boy who spoke so sweetly

Once the remainder of our friends returned from Europa Park, we spent the rest of our day just wandering through the town. The kids were cleverly maneuvering us in the direction of the park and hearing them chatter away in Hindi about parks, a young man detached himself from a group of students and asked us in extremely politely worded Hindustani if we were looking for a children’s park and offered to direct us to one. My husband thanked him and after telling him we knew the way, (also) politely inquired if he too was an Indian. He blushingly demurred and returned to his group. I could have told my husband had he waited to ask me first. Of course the boy was not Indian. He was Pakistani! The polite Hindustani was too close to well bred Urdu. Only the Pakistanis speak so beautifully I murmured. ‘All they do nicely is speak’ returned my BJP voting friend. Ah well!

The Night Of The Monster

I just saw something creepy
After that, I can’t feel sleepy.
Aaah! Those blood red eyes!
That green and gooey slime!
I’ve escaped it before but not this time.
His body reminds me of cries.

I know because I read it now
In my comic “Survival, How?”
It has killed many after shocking ’em in fright .
A sword, a gun with bullets 45
Is all I need to stay alive.
But none lie within sight.

It was coming for
Me, I lay down on my bed in horror.
Everything other than my bed had broken.
I froze in fear,
The end was drawing near,
Then, I awoke.

I was wondering, where
Could it be, it hadn’t left a single hair.
Did it have the power not to be seen?
I was paralyzed in fear,
Did it have the power to disappear?
Then it hit me! I’t was a dream.

Lessons and Parenting

I read this amazing blog last Friday about how children can learn a lot if you bring them into the kitchen. I had not thought they could learn so much through cooking and baking and I immediately resolved to try it out. Later on Friday though, something happened that made that fun plan fly right out the window.

If you are an Indian parent, you probably had this video pop up on your whatsapp too. It has been shot by a mother teaching her three-four year old the numbers. As the little one is pressed to repeat, she gets things wrong and starts to cry, which  angers the mother even more. The child then complains of a headache and pleads to be taught with love. The whole thing ends in a slap.

It is not for the faint-hearted. It is a disturbing video, and you should not watch if you think it will affect you much.

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Because it affected me very much. I didn’t sleep at all that night. That’s the funny thing about technology. You see a distressed, crying child and want to pick them up and comfort them but you can’t. You don’t know who they are or where they are. And yet the crying and the pain is so real it can give you a sleepless night. As I found out.

The third time the video came on a whatsapp group, I decided to reply and warn people to not click on the link because it was so disturbing. I was talking to my husband about all this when my older one overheard and interrupted me to say, ‘Why did you say that? You should have told people to click on the link and forward it around so that that mother learns a lesson’. By evening, he got his wish. Virat Kohli and a bunch of Indian cricketers had come across the video too and shared it on their Instagram with scathing comments on poor parenting. The thing went viral.

Now I need to back up a bit. When the video came up on school and office groups, most of us were horrified and disturbed. But we felt that a backlash against the mother might not be very productive. What she needed was counselling and help. I wondered what sort of feedback the mother was getting and whether it would be too negative to be of any use, so I clicked on “Comments”.

The first comment said, ‘This is a normal mother and a normal child. This is not news. Times of India, don’t waste our time.’

Another one went, ‘Come on people, you all thought this was funny till Virat called it child abuse. Use your brains.’

Another, ‘We were all raised like this. Don’t overreact.’

‘All the people reacting like this are either single or not parents or dads. What do they know about raising a child?’

And so on.

So by this time my brain had sort of ground to a stop. A night of no sleep, too much thinking, and then this. Nothing made sense anymore and I just wanted to back off and sleep!
Later, the girl was identified as the niece of a well known singer. The family defended the teaching methods and described the child as stubborn. A bunch of stories came up in the press and the story is now old news.

To my mind, now is a good time to talk about it. One of the more sensible comments said, ‘Don’t judge the mother based on a 2 minute video.’ That is very true. Although, I would still say that it is not a one sided video. It is not of a child crying (and possibly throwing a tantrum) or a mother scolding (and possibly being ignored. My boys do it all the time). There are reactions. There are responses. They don’t feel good.

Do parents need to be perfect and patient all the time? Of course not! It is not possible. But when you are correcting a child, do you realise when you need to stop, back off? When you have crossed a line? Yes! Sometimes you realise it too late. Then you say sorry. It happens! I remember when my older one was ten months and we were visiting family he decided he wanted to subsist on breastmilk. For a ten month old, that is not possible. He was constantly hungry and cranky. After a point, I was just fed up. So my husband held him fast in his lap while I fed him bananas. He cried throughout. My horrified sister made a video of the whole. She showed us the video years later telling me my son could report us for abuse. She was right! If it went viral, I would probably get the same sort of reaction as this one got. Of course as soon as the banana was finished, my son raced off to play – happy and full. But you can’t see it in the video.

Here’s the thing though. This was not a video of a normal child and a normal mother. It was an aberration. Something we remember ten years after it happened. If this seems like normal to most folks, what is normal?

This thought reminded me of something else. In the aftermath of the murder of S Swathi by a man who had been stalking her, there was a discussion on Baradwaj Rangan’s wonderful blog about the link between the depiction of stalking as an expression of love in Indian movies and the acceptance of stalking as ‘normal’ in real life. It was an amazing discussion but some things stayed behind especially, in my mind.

  • One lady spoke about her experiences as a teacher in small town India. She sounded young, enthusiastic and like she might have been a popular teacher but when she spoke to her teenage pupils about how it was better to approach a girl and just talk instead of stalking, her class bristled and she ended up being counselled to not bring her city ways too much to the country because her own safety was at stake.
  • A young reader and frequent commenter on the blog, a sensitive and thoughtful young man, objected to how stalking was an unfair word to use for ‘following’ which was a fair way to express love and interest. That it was normal.
  • One reader spoke about his experiences as a student in small town India. A rather horrible story about being used by a girl to test the love of a boy stalker who was not coming up to scratch, leading to a violent episode and ending with this person leaving India for good to study abroad.

All of this was ‘normal’.

We are a huge country. We speak, according to Wikipedia 122 major languages and 1599 other languages. We have an insane variety of cuisines, clothing styles, facial features. Also apparently, a huge range of what is considered normal. Including holding a country to ransom to ensure a rapist does not go to jail. But I digress.

If there is a solution, I am not sure what it is. I’ll put my hope in talking to each other. And let us not assume that we are always right and ours is the only valid point of view. Parents on my kids’ school whatsapp groups speak from a position of privilege that they might not realise the extent of. India is a developing country. Not every parent has the luxury of letting a child follow their dream. There are just too many of us for all of us to be successful that way. We do have to teach our kids. They do have to clear their exams. But is this how they will do it? Can a child really learn this way? Are there examples where this has worked?

And what are the other ways?

I liked what Robbie Cheadle suggested in her blog, that we take them into the kitchen. My boys made modak with me this weekend for Ganesh Chaturthi. We started with too much jaggery, and then they did the math and measured out the right portions of every other ingredient.

Then today evening, my older one was standing on my head waiting for his milk to heat up so he could down it and rush off to play. His observation about bubbles on the edges of the pan led to an interesting conversation about heat conductivity in metals.

In our house though, me and my boys mostly bond over and learn through stories. We all love books and story telling and our bed time and waking up stories are filled with more than moral science. We put in interesting facts, trivia and math and science problems. I guess if you enjoy the teaching, they will enjoy the the learning.

And I’m sure we could extend this to so much more. We can learn from music. We can learn from sports. We can learn by observing nature. We can learn by hanging out together.

Is it always possible? No. Is it always easy? No. Is it always fun? YES! Does it work? I think so.

Maybe we can take the distress of this child and the discussions over this video somewhere else than accusing each other of poor parenting or non parenting. Maybe we can use this opportunity to work on how we deal with and raise our children. Maybe we can learn too how to do things better.

Dastkar Once More

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A quick post to remind all that Dastkar is back in town! I had written about Dastkar previously here.

They will be around from the 11th to the 20th of August. I was away this weekend and I heard it rained a lot and I hope this lovely market was not completely washed out. I paid a short visit before I left. It was Day 1 and many of the stalls were not up yet but here’s what I thought:

  • Just LOOK at the amazing wood carvings! I expect they cost a bomb and were honestly too big for small apartments such as mine, but maybe some fancy hotelier picked up something.
  • Not too many fabric or saree options. There are so many direct weaver sales happening on Facebook these days, not to mention the many many weaver sales happening in Bangalore round the year, so this is not really a surprise. Probably not much of a loss either but I missed the stalls!
  • I did see a beautiful linen saree in pink and really the finest linen but it was too expensive for me. Things did seem more expensive than in other places.
  • The food was to die for as usual. I bought a lot of papads and pickles – the sort of thing Rujuta Diwekar is fond of calling real food. Any weight I gain is to be blamed squarely on her! They had dal baati choorma at the stall next door. Since that is real fattening food, I nobly skipped but I did try some choorma. It was SO YUM!
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  • They had some glass jewellery from Agra. Murano, you got competition!
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  • They had plenty of handmade jewellery in everything from antique silver to crochet. I like how tribal jewellery goes with handwoven sarees.
  • Mojris are a no brainer. Here’s what I succumbed to!
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  • There was a good selection of terracotta garden ornaments.
  • The usual gourd and bamboo planters marked attendance.
  • Paintings etc. of course!
  • Neev and other organic soaps were conspicuous by their absence. Not that I missed them. I buy my soaps now from Arun of Coco Naturals. He makes soaps on his farm near Mettur and mails them wrapped in butter paper with a rubber band around them. His soaps are amazing and I appreciate minimal to no packaging so he gets my vote every time. I had to give him a shout out.
  • There were no cultural displays or kite flying when I visited, but well – day one! I expect they will have all of that over the coming weekend.

That’s it – short and quick. If you happen to visit, do leave a message and tell me what you thought of it!