Thursday, July 31, 2014

"You Give Me Love"

Raghav and I were talking this morning about a sudden trip that had come up - to visit my cousin in Bangalore over this weekend, as he was moving back to the U.S. We initially thought we would go see him and Raghav agreed, but later we decided against it as Srinath felt that it would be too much driving from here to Bangalore to Madurai and then Kodai, and that it would be too tiring. So I was explaining to Raghav how we had decided against the Bangalore trip.

Raghav was visibly sad and expressed it. He shared how he was sad about cancelling the trip as the reason why he had wanted to go to Bangalore was because the three of us hadn't gone anywhere for many months now. We then spoke about how we could plan a long holiday after the monsoons and so on. During the course of that discussion, I also shared with him as to how I feel when we go on holiday and he sits mostly with his iPad inside the room, and how difficult it is for us to get him to do anything else with us, or even for us to go somewhere on our own. So I told him how we were okay to wait for as long as it takes, to go somewhere, until he was ready to let go of his iPad atleast for some time, during the trip.

He immediately got upset and was in tears. He asked to be left alone like he usually does when he is experiencing an intense emotion. And so I let him be. Later, when he was ready to talk, I hugged him while he sat on my lap and asked him why he was upset. He said that he really wanted us to go somewhere together and also felt that I was getting angry with him when I spoke about the iPad. I wiped his tears and shared why I had said what I had said. I told him that I was merely expressing my need - to be out when on a trip, rather than being stuck inside a room. He was still in tears and told me how he was trying his best to convince me to go somewhere with him, but that I was getting angry about it. I realised then that there was perhaps something more to it than what he was expressing.

So I asked if he was not okay with my wanting to go away for a few days next week, to be with myself. He nodded and said 'yes'.
"Are you okay to not be okay?", I asked.
"Yes, I am.....I know that you need that time."
My heart broke open with one blow when I heard that. I was amazed that he could actually express how he felt about this, and also be okay and choose to stay with his sadness and discomfort.
I shared with him how happy I was because he was giving me that space and time. I told him how I was also so happy that he was choosing to stay with his sadness and discomfort. 
But the mother in me took over at that point and I asked him if he really wished I could cancel my trip. And he said 'no'. 
"It will not be the same without you around, but it's okay", he said softly, wiping his own tears.
My heart broke open a little more.

I thought a little before speaking and then asked: "What is it that you get from my just being around? What is it that I give you?"
Pat came the reply....
" give me love", he said, hugging me a little more tightly.
My heart was now ripped wide open. The rawness of the emotions engulfed me. And I sobbed.
I sobbed uncontrollably, my heart pounding and overflowing with love and joy, and he cried too, while we sat and hugged each other for a long time. I could have died at that moment....maybe I did :)

My little baby was talking about love. He was seeing me for who I was. What more can any human being or mother want?

And then we spoke a little more about love, how we cannot see it but can only feel it like the air or the wind...
...and we adjusted our sails and changed our course...both of us going our own ways...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Why is it that the cure for anything is pain?

We all need our daily dose of Pooh's simple wisdom....the true art of living.

I am sure we all have our own Pooh in our lives....well, mine is a 9 year old with a Mowgli-like appearance, living wild and free, seemingly lost in a world of gadgets, games and wifi connectivity.... but who seems to have truly mastered the art of living, as he doles out his pearls of simple, innocent wisdom in the most unexpected places and in the most surprisingly simple ways, and almost always gets inspired while he is in the bathroom! :)

After years of coaxing, conversations, letting go, conflicts and resolutions, Raghav has finally decided to get into the groove of having a bath soon after he wakes up, so that he is "free" for the rest of the day and night, as one stretches and becomes the other! This morning, while I was giving him a bath, he brought my attention to a little bruise he had on his ankle. He made it known to me that it had healed as it was not as painful as yesterday, and that I could wash that part with soap and water. Then, as he usually does, he plonked himself into the tub, for a nice warm soak. While earlier, he would have screamed in pain, this time, he mentioned to me quite casually and quietly that his ankle was still hurting, especially when he sat in the tub of water. I nodded, smiled and walked away to make the bed.

Soon, he was out and drying himself with a towel. And then came these pearls of profound wisdom...

"Amma, why is it that the cure for anything is pain? You see, I had this little bruise and I know that water heals it, but then when it touches it, it hurts more. Why is it that everything in life is like this?", he asked.

I was astounded at the rawness of what he had expressed, but wished to understand him and his words a little more.

"Why do you feel and say that everything in life is like this? What else that you know of has made you feel this way?", I asked quietly.

"Well, you see all the diseases people have....for everything the cure is feel better, you have to feel the pain, and what cures it is the pain."

Wow! What I have taken forty odd years of suffering and stumbling and falling into the darkest of abysses to learn (and still learning), he seems to have learned already! I am quite sure now that he is my Pooh. All I need to do is watch him, listen to him and be with him, and I will learn how to truly live.

And while I was caught in my train of thoughts that moved from one station to another quite effortlessly, and not wanting to stop anywhere, my little Pooh was out and had already plonked himself on the beanbag - his little Pooh world for now, totally immersed in his game of Minecraft!

Monday, July 21, 2014

I thought you were his sister!

Raghav and I were down today as usual, in the evening, to cycle round the block. It is a routine that both of us like now and have gotten into. We usually do a few rounds together, and then when Raghav needs a little break, I do some more while he times me. Then he does a few while I time him, after which I do a few more alone, and then we finish off together with a few more. Raghav loves this routine as it was created by him. And I love it because I am enjoying cycling after many years, and it nourishes my body, mind and soul with some happy hormones!

We had just done a couple of rounds, when a little boy on his cycle stopped me with his question.
"Excuse me....where are you going? Are you going to the park?", he asked me, with an endearing smile.
I smiled back, stopped in my track, and said," No....I am going cycling this way", and pointed the other way.
Raghav had meanwhile made a U turn and came back to see where I was. This little boy immediately asked if Raghav would come and play with him in the park. Raghav promised to play tomorrow with him.
I gently steered the conversation, asking him his name, and if he would like to cycle with us.
He immediately beamed and turned around to join us.

After the next round, Raghav wanted to take a break, and this little boy said he would wait with him. They got talking while I went on cycling. Suddenly, he ran up to me and said he wanted to race with me, and so we raced one round. As we were finishing and he was celebrating winning the race, I yelled out to him saying I was continuing my rounds of cycling. "Cheating! You're cheating!", he yelled back. I had no clue why he thought I was cheating, and smiled and rode on. He joined a little later and we went one more round. In the middle, he wanted to stop for a little break as he was tired. So we stopped. He asked me for the time, and when he realised that I had no watch on, he decided that it must be late, and told me he was going home. I waved and we decided to meet again tomorrow.

I finished my few rounds of cycling and joined Raghav, to find that there was a water bottle and a bag in Raghav's cycle basket. It belonged to that little boy. He had asked Raghav if he could leave it there and had forgotten. We only knew the name of the block that he lived in, not his flat number. So we decided to wait and see if he would come back in search of the bottle. He promptly did.

And we got talking a bit. We asked him (obviously) for his flat number. He promptly asked for mine and I told him. He then asked for Raghav's, and he told him.
"Oh! So you both live in the same flat?!"
"Yes, I am his mother!", I softly added.
His eyes opened wide and he beamed and said, "Oh! What? Mother??!"
He almost fell backwards in surprise and shock.
"What did you think?", I asked back.
" I thought you were ....what do I say?...his sister or something!", he exclaimed.
"How old are you then?", he asked.
When I told him my age, he almost fainted!
"My God! So old?!", he gasped.
And we all laughed! :)

This little boy made my day.

I realise that it does pay sometimes to go out and play with your kids like a kid. You make more friends who are young at heart and young in body :) And who also make you feel the same way! :)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I can cook...or rather, get someone to cook for me!

I have been thinking about my "home alone" time away from home, somewhere up in the hills, and for the first time in all these years, my dear son lets me go (atleast in his thoughts for now, until it actually happens ) without a whine or a tear and says "yeah, ok....but who will cook for me? Appa doesn't know how to cook.." I smiled, nodded and let it all brew for a while without trying to 'sort it out' for him. That was many days ago.

This morning, father and son have a long conversation about it on their own during a drive in the car, and then my dear son comes up to me later and says: " Amma, you can even go next week if you want! I am ok....maybe you can write down a few recipes for appa to follow...actually I know how to make a few things like cheese toast and chappathi frankie, and I have my Tarla Dalal book...I cannot make those on my own, but I can tell him how to make them for me....I know the ingredients and the method."

My heart melted. I do want to go away and be with myself so much.....but just these words from my son, makes me feel like I have gone away and come back. They set me free. And I am sure they set him free too.

And who says one HAS to learn how to cook and make a meal for oneself? Who says that it is an important life skill to teach or learn? There are so many ways to deal with challenges like these. Cooking for oneself is just one of the ways. There are many other ways. Why get stuck with one?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Learning and Teaching - Where does one stop and the other end?

Some months ago, Raghav was talking about wanting to do a talk on astronomy, based on all that he had learned on his own, through reading books, watching DVDs and poring through websites. He wanted to share what he had learned with others. It was the first time he had voluntarily asked to organize an interactive session with children and adults.

As we got down to planning his talk, which was more for me to understand what he was wanting to do, I began to put down things that he wanted to share, give or do with people, as a mind-map. While we were talking, I realised that he had actually got it all planned in his head to the tee, and even in sequence, although it was not against a specific time frame. He also mentioned to me that he would like to do a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of planets etc., similar to the one we did on his Lego creations. Now that got me more interested, as I finally had something to do :). So we spoke at length about what we should put into it, what we should leave out, how to break it up, and so on. I was quite amazed at the clarity he had inside his head about all this, while I needed my pen and paper to think through it all :)

One thing that stood out from this long conversation we had was this:
"Amma, yes I know we will do a PowerPoint, and also fix a day to call my friends and others over for the talk, but what if I learn something more about all this in the time between planning and actually doing the talk? How will I put it in? How will I share it with them?"

I realised how stifling structure could be for a person who is such a free spirit in his whole being. Yes, there are ways we could work around those points. But that was not the point.

The point was that he had actually touched upon one of the most important aspects of learning and teaching....that to teach, you have to be a lifelong learner, and to learn, you have to keep your mind and heart open all the time - open to learning something every moment. Learning flows like a river with no visible beginning nor is an endless cycle actually, unless we see it with narrow eyes - as starting from a spring and ending in the sea. For where does the spring begin and the sea end??

I also realised for myself, that I had never truly seen teaching that way. Yes, I have given many lectures to teacher trainees and others, and taught kids with special needs. I have gone with an open mind and heart and shared my limited knowledge with humility, with no fear of saying "I don't know". And yet, I had not been truly open, not in the way he was suggesting. I had my lesson plans and objectives. I planned for a session and went with that, although I was open to being flexible and learning from the group during the session. But there was a gap - a space in time between the planning and the execution, where I had perhaps not kept my mind and heart so truly open. And that I think was the gap he was talking about.

Today, we still haven't made any headway with this talk. It is still in the air, talked about occasionally. Today he has moved on to other things. Despite making so many plans, including thinking about getting others to watch and listen to his talk on skype, making small take-away gifts for those who attend, and so much more. Yes, it was fun planning all that with him. And yes, I know that he may still not do this talk ever. Or he actually might. But I don't care really. I am happy to keep learning with, through and from him, every moment, because to be with him is to constantly be in touch with myself. There is no other way. There is no greater learning than that for me. And I know in my heart that he knows, and that he knows and understands learning and teaching way better than I do and will ever know. And that is all that really matters .

So where does learning or teaching begin or end? Do you have any thoughts on this that you would like to share?

Friday, July 4, 2014


In this day and age of computers and technology and gizmos, I find it quite strange that most people and schools still give so much importance to writing - handwriting. Why do we need to write still? Have we sat down and thought about that deeply?

Looking back at my school years, I remember how we used to dread our handwriting class - yes, we used to have a class just to practice good writing! I always felt that it was almost an art class of sorts, as all we did was to copy rows and rows of words, perfectly formed between two lines, every single time. And we would be graded for that! Sounds silly doesn't it? I remember how I used to write beautifully in this handwriting class (even got the top grades for it!), and go wild in all the other classes! My writing today speaks of my rebellious spirit - it is a scrawl, it follows no rules, each letter stands on its own (I always disliked cursive writing, and we were not taught cursive at all in school) and each letter would be formed a different way every time! For a long time, I had trouble keeping a standard signature :)

I also remember how when Raghav was younger, my mother and grandmother used to ask me to get him to write on a slate with chalk, as they felt that that was the best way to get a good, neat handwriting! One's handwriting was supposed to reflect one's personality. And personalities had to be the best, always. :)

Raghav however disliked writing, ever since they started it regularly in school, and more so when it started eating away into his playtime. It became one of the sore points for him to dislike school, and with a vengeance. For a long long time after he got out of school, he did not touch a crayon, pencil or paintbrush. He did not want to have anything to do with writing or drawing. And so we gave up. We then moved to a space of just letting him be. It happened when we trusted him and life. And then one fine day, he asked to paint! My heart took a leap...and soon, he was painting the whole solar system, one planet at a time!

But he would often feel sad if he felt that the drawing or writing did not look close to perfect - perfect the way he had imagined it in his head! He would sob and throw the pencil away. He would react the same way, even if I didn't draw something perfectly. I remember a day when we were chatting, and I casually asked him about writing and what he felt about it, he told me how the teachers at school always wanted the letters to be perfectly formed, every single time. He also pointed out how they would ask them to write words without having shown them the spelling even once! "How is that possible amma? To write perfectly every time, and know the spellings without seeing the word even once?", he asked. I realised that in many ways, he was a perfectionist, and wouldn't even attempt something, until he was sure of himself. I also realised that he was a strong visual learner. That was how he learned the spellings of words - by seeing them repeatedly over a period of time, not so much by sounding them out.
Today, I spent a good part of the afternoon planning games with Raghav for his birthday party tomorrow with a handful of his friends He finally voluntarily took a break from Minecraft to think up of games and clues for a treasure hunt game that he wants his friends to discover their treasure (his gifts to them!)...I was amazed at the clues he thought of for each, that were like small riddles...this is the first time he's doing something like this and so it does mean a lot to me!

And then I was asking him how he wanted to do the clues, and he immediately dismissed writing saying: " The computer is better actually for this as the letters will come out perfectly...I will type out all the clues and then print them out...I also haven't used the computer for this in a long time!"

"So it means a lot to you that the letters have to look perfect?", I asked softly.

"No, not exactly.....but I would prefer that! I don't want to write," he smiled.

He went on to type out all the clues on his own, with almost no help from me with the spellings. He had learned the spellings on his own somehow. I don't even know how or when.

There are so many different reasons why children don't want to write. Why don't we just let them have their way? Why don't we rethink our need to hold on to writing, almost like a religious custom, which if not followed, will pave our path to hell?

I think that writing, as a skill that needs to be taught and practiced, today has taken on a role like what grammar has to a language. We are now so caught up in the nitty-gritties of both that we are losing out on the larger beauty of the whole picture. Writing is but a tool for communication. Language is but the medium. While looking at what's missing or wrong, or what needs correction or practice, in both handwriting and grammar, we are damming the natural flow of the river, that already knows where to go and how to get there with ease. We are looking to teach a river how to flow and where to go.