Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Yes, Boss!

Emirates Parent Plus. December 2010

As usual, it began with a bang! There were tears, there was loud ranting. There were ground teeth. There was a lot of huffing and puffing. There would have been retaliation too, but this time good sense prevailed upon me. And had he clenched his fists any tighter, I am certain his fingers would have come through the other side!

My crime of the day: Cutting the chart paper into the “wrong kind of half”!! “Argggggh!”

Wanted: 'Natural', diagonal half.  I dared: 'Silly', rectangular half straight down the middle.

He was right. There is no way, “this can be made right”! And even the stationer was closed for the day, so a quick replacement was out of the question.

This is one of those occasions when it is best to stay very quiet and adopt a reverse conduct – do as told and do as expected (mind read, if that’s what it takes!). So I kept very quiet and hoping that it would appease him a bit, I laid out his colour cards, his paints, his glitter items ... whatever I could find in his desk, really. And then, very cautiously, I looked up.

My little tyrant had turned into a crazy walrus; three straws sticking out of his teeth on either side of his mouth, cheeks still tear-stained.

Of course, I did not dare to react and my smile was stuffed firmly behind my teeth.

CURRENT STATUS:COMPLY MODE

“Take this sponge”, walrus ordered.
“OK”

“Now paint the sides black. No messing anymore!”
(I just got on with it).

“Give me those triangles”.
(Gave triangles).

He stuck five of them – a large one on the bottom centre, two small ones on the left towards the top and two more similar ones symmetrically on the right.

“There! Now hold this. Take one”.
(He pulled the straws off his teeth one by one. I picked a green straw from a choice of green, pink, white and blue).

He patiently rolled shiny paper around another straw and stuck it under a small triangle on the chart.

“See? Now do the rest”.
(Thought blurb:Eureka! Fire rockets! Wow! I got to work immediately!)

“Hmm... hold. Follow me.”
(Silence)

“Now, suffer!”
(Red ears. Smile suffocating inside mouth).

Very purposefully, cheeks puffed out, frowning furiously, knowing exactly what he was doing, he dropped blobs of watery paint at strategic points.
There was no stopping him now!

The next quarter hour was a mad, mad, rush. He huffed and he puffed and he blew hot and blew cold. ‘Beserk’ was coined for moments like this.

S P L A S H     S P L A S H    S P L A S H  B L O W B L O W B L Owww

What was unfolding before me was magic! Of course I had to join in this relentless expiration too – this was supposed to be my punishment, see? With every blow, I could feel my lungs collapse within my chest and I was getting more and more light-headed. But stopping now would be suicide. So, I carried on.

Throwing in well-timed, “wow”, “fantastic” and “what a brilliant idea”, every now and again to gain precious breaths, my ‘penance’ was worth every second!

It was chaos, this match of streaming paint and gushing air. But under the very sharp calculations and strict instructions of a super-charged little boy, the madness took on a course of delightful, decisive art. While he pointed his straw a certain way, he blew hard directly from the top.
S p l a s h !
Another guided blow trained the maverick splatter into little runaway veins of colour that immediately took forms of jet-sparks, sparkling geysers, smoke trails and a riot of eye-catching vibrance.

I see, here, a lesson for the experts of mind. ‘Set the noose loose’, says the wise grandma, of errant busybodies whatever the age. ‘Join in the fun’, I say.

Trained anarchy! What a cracker!
...

Monday, 1 November 2010

Word forword

Emirates Parent Plus. November 2010.

The vagaries of the English language have always been fodder for much entertainment. While non-native speakers continue to cook its broth most relentlessly, only those who have had personal experience with the in-house battering of this phonetically challenged dialect, mother tongue, or not, can understand that the murder spree of Queen’s English is a heritage that is as old as the very origins of its speakers.

History not-withstanding, the scope for sheer variety underscores the speaking fraternity of its faithfuls, where strong accents make for individual languages in their own right. So while there is the Geordie or the Brummie from its lands’s own, we heb our own ramifications, that stand proud, as far as the empire stretched then and as rampant as its influence has spread since.

Compounded by phonetic similarities between words among these languages, while they hold no semantic parity, the results of their combinations become epics in themselves.

Hold that in your mind while I relate this rather unfortunate event. Someone declares at a wake, inde naak vurrk ille (“Today I will have no sleep”). It is but natural to wonder, even aloud, why someone not even remotely related to the deceased should go without sleep prior to the funeral. Turns out, the exclamation was a classic dual language utterance, where “vurrk” was actually the English word “work” used as itself, but articulated in his typical accent. After much confusion among the guests, when the situation got quite out-of-hand, someone was kind enough to intervene and clarify what that sentence originally intended to convey. It goes thus: inde naak work ille, meaning, quite simply and unpretentiously, “Today I do not have (to go to) work”.

Can you imagine how foul uncontrollable guffaws would have seemed with the head of the family lying in a coffin two teak chairs away? Let us not even venture into the predicament of the mourning widow and the distraught children.

So you see, language mutilation is not obliged to protocols of any sort and in the wake of habit and opportunity, anything vurrks.

And. It is always very sentimental.

The enthusiast will plough on. And you dare not interrupt. Especially on a busy road when the only one available to ask for directions is a modest enough youth revving a 1985 converted van, loaded with live chickens. He will vigorously point left and insist that to get to where I need to be in less than 15 minutes, I should go striiiiightu.

Decode time. Going ‘straight’, would take me along a road that allows no turnings for a good two kms on that traffic-heavy road. Going ‘right’, would steer me out of the city. Instinctively, I know that in going with his hand gesture, ‘left’, I will be at least 45 minutes late for my appointment. So, gingerly, trying my diplomatic best, I enquired again. Enthusiastic, confident and persuasive, the reply came promptly, “go to Striiiiightu, Medem” . There was no way I could break his heart but experience told me to seek a second opinion, urgently. I shot a jolly “thanks” and as fast as the bumper-to-bumper traffic would allow me, I made for a getaway.

While I drove away relying merely on the compass of instinct and sheer commonsense, the bridge (breeze) rand (ran) through my airs (hairs). The chaos outside, tasted my resolve and I hated the test of the orange-flavoured water, a friend had most kindly forced upon me on another such mercurial day.

Was I flummoxed, though? On the contrary, it was tremendously heartening. It was another testimony to why progress will make its way.

For, in spite of my valiant efforts to connect on a local level, speaking in the regional language, there is this rank of greater valiants that dare to dream. They know that prosperity rides on cultural amalgamation. They have seen it happen and they are part of that wave. So while no one can take away from them, their staunch roots of identity, they are forever eager to adapt and adopt every semblance of a prosperity that makes them more one with the rest of the world.

Above the underlying determination to rise beyond a day’s wage, these light moments of comic relief, make every bead of sweat, worth the while. The local vernacularisation of a language from a land far, far, away, and the localised diction and usage of it ̶ more far-fetched the better ̶ makes it worth the while. In this very common situation, where education, aspiration and resolve come together, every time you come across a deflection, grammatical or phonetic, it still gets you. It is worth the vile.

You cannot beat it. And it will always survive. Word for word.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

I wonder

Emirates Parent Plus. September 2010.

Dread is a notoriously lucrative career. Open any literary anthology, the tales will most usually be spun around depravity of thought or futility of body. The spirit, the free spirit within, remains imprisoned not only in real life but also in those masterful webs of words that win awards upon awards, inspiring more in that line, winding its way across media, slithering, hissing and spitting its juices incessantly iterating the same things variously. And we call this entertainment. Spare a thought!

What is it about despair, doom and disillusionment that they always find abundant audience? They manage even the smallest part in the drama we live out every day, and yet they enthuse insatiable appetites for more! After the morning newspapers and more on television and the internet, are people not tired of their own share of these realities that they will go out and spend money to delve into the same of someone else – even when it is a mere product of imagination, expertly crafted?

After the trials of two sleepless nights and dazed days in between, with a feverish child unhappy and cranky to be home and ill and yet unfit to last two hours at school, when I seek to uplift my mood slightly so as to be ready for the next bout of waking, I see a familiar jacket in tantalising print, beckoning from the shelf at my bed side. Eyes twinkling, I turn page upon page, and get drawn deeper and deeper into the travails of another hassled being. What?! Hooked, though I am, I want out!

I turn on the television and my favourite advertisement again tries to seduce me into buying the high-end car, now at an even better price. I dream of the colour that would best suit my tastes and suddenly, a well-toned youngster walks out of a wall exposing the most sinister manipulation yet! Stranger psychosis follows a lame attempt at slapstick and I am all but renouncing hope. Click click click... what can go wrong here? It is the fabulously produced singing reality show with my pet singer delivering a faultless rendition. Faultless, to a fault, that is. Disaster strikes and inexplicable audience votes boot out the week’s most worthy contender.

Switch channel again! Respite, whither art thou?! Ha! Frasier Crane ... has left the building ... next ... House will not be housed ... it is not always Glee ... 271 for 5 wickets – good score! ... Jack Black ... hmmm ... Adam Sandler simply won’t grow up and Steve Martin’s dozen won’t let him. Choices! Finally! Happy choices. Time to relax, I put my feet up, lean back. After an eternity. This is what it is all about. This is why we invest in the meanest LED technology and the coolest La-Z-Boy.

This is the purpose of entertainment. It takes you away from the downturn of daily ramble and seats you in a place that serves only to make you smile or positively introspect. At least it makes you forget, for however short a while.

My mother gives the strangest reaction to any misery on telly or even any dreariness that dares expression in print. She looks to mass media for an escape. When she takes a break from the day, she looks to be truly entertained; to be able to leave then, in a more pleasant state of mind. Any other offering attracts scorn. I now tend to agree with her.

On the subject of attraction, there are also those who can, with unanimous approval, carry the title, ‘entertainment’. Like this friend, who is the ultimate comedy magnet. When he begins to tell you a story, expect a hernia at the end of it. When he goes into details, the most improbable and the most unthinkable will be the fact. The plausible and expected, may or may not hold truth. This is no exaggeration and neither are his impossible anecdotes. He is the prescription for the forlorn.

But like for all good things, here is the catch. When I imagine his laugh riots as a complete book of x number of pages, for instance, I tire. And I realise funny has a shelf life. Funny is funny because it is not the norm, it comes as respite. That is why we enjoy it and might even crave it in its absence. But like any overstaying guest, too much funny, beyond a point, is not funny anymore. Worse, it can also become offensive and border on insensitive. Funny is no funny business.

Presenting, the third reality – the one that sustains us. This reality that we are so rarely aware of, lies between fleeting phantasmagoria and melancholia. It is this part of reality that keeps us rooted in the dips and dales of emotion, the truth and deceits of virtue and the paradox of relationship. It is the pivot of existence.

Yet, it is this reality that is most difficult to relate. Too close to see clearly. Too ‘us’ to want to tell. Too uninteresting to want to know.

So again, in my bid to look for a change, when I tear my sides laughing to the wisecrack in an auditorium or skim the paperbacks lining my shelf, I see stories from my own reality and those close to me, retold over and over, differently, so that when I do partake of them, I see another’s tale, taking shape in another’s world, in another’s time. But while I might get tired of laughing or crying, it is the intensity of plot, the conflict of intention, the disappointment with perception, and the resonance of each of these aspects to my own experiences, strung in those artistic words and projected from those reels and discs, that reach deep within and stay in longer than the numerous humorous tales retold numerously. Until, of course, I laugh even that off.

Is it just human nature, then, to cherish something like laughter that will come and go and holds its value because it needs that little nudge? Is it our lot to ponder and dwell upon despondency, that we identify with most – that, which will not leave anyway? The evidence seems to suggest so.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

FIFA-foe-fum

waka waka everyone!
Emirates Parent Plus. August 2010

Never mind the many fouls and unsavoury tactics that dotted the World Cup, and let’s just wait and watch if technology will ever lend a third eye across the line and post, but it was the actual ‘football’ that came as a problem to many. England’s Robert Green blamed it for the mess he made of that shot with USA in their very first match and at the end of the deal, Jabulani has more than a few questions to tackle. For the wrong reasons, there will be some others too, who won’t be forgotten soon.


And then there are those that will be remembered, fondly, for much longer. Ask psychic octopus Paul, I’m certain he will concur. Though, I must admit, I suspect our clam-eating soothsayer par excellence, had eight hands full of patriotism influencing his predictions. Should he last beyond the expected lifetime of his species, the cephalopod might well be consulted again, to the cheer of many. From India, Pappu the parrot and even Chandoo, a friend’s canine, share this pride of place among fortune tellers that can justify the ‘I told you so’ look that shines their coat.


Truly, there have been stories galore to make this World Cup unforgettable for more than the actual sport. The 20 feet banners of Ronaldo and Messi were taken down only recently from my son’s school buildings, but the FIFA 2010 football has been etched variously in his art book.They even held an inter-house football season out-of-turn at the school, with Shakira successfully distracting even the most studious non-participator. No one complained – if anything, feverish football quizzes have become the mainstay at school-runs and any breaks during the day. And more, what my son knows about South Africa now, goes much beyond what any category of pure ‘game’ statistics will ever enthuse.


The virulent passion this game has evoked across the world! As a single force, enthusiasts cheered for their favourite teams, many times not of their own nation, and many times, interchanging loyalty in favour of the better side. It has been a true forum for global assimilation of culture and awareness.


In today’s world peppered with a multitude of faiths, lifestyles and opportunities, quite often, passions intensify to the degree of fanaticism. We have seen this with cricket and the FIFA 2010 has shown this to be even truer of football. It didn’t matter that most countries don’t even have FIFA level teams! The best sides were rooted for and absenteeism was credited to hilarious reasons. It didn’t matter what clan, what sect, which side of the border or what nationality one belonged to, here was a common denominator everyone knew at least something about.


For a short while, the entire world’s population had become a single citizenry of the ‘Republic of Football’. The only voice heard was of a passion for winning and enthralling in the joy of the winner.


Call it naiveté, but as the mother of a young child and as part of a society that holds harmony dear, I wonder why it is such an impossible task to bring people together under common banners like this, that entertain, captivate and harbour a oneness that is affected by no other factor but sheer love.


Here, the love was for a sport, but the passion was for the best play. Irrespective of colour and gene, wave upon wave of cheer rose at every stellar tackle, accurate Prophet Paul got huge affection and stirring local music became a world anthem.


That’s where the real appeal of this tournament lay for me. A World Cup that gave us as big heroes off the field as on it – and so much to feel good as one people of the common world – leaves a gamut of passionate conversations that will keep the 127 decibel vuvuzela droning in our souls for a long time to come. Well done Spain. But better done, football.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Past Perfect

Emirates Parent Plus. July 2010

It was a sunny afternoon. A surprise in itself, the day ahead provided us more.

Bright faced and in increasing order of height, we, ten women, one man and fourteen children, trudged into the room, boys in one file and girls in the other. Sunlight flooded in from windows on the outer wall. I followed the girls and filled the benches on that side of the room. The boys sat on the other side. That is because, girls did needlework and such nimble activity needed all available light. Boys were given the rough bits like carpentry – not so intricate and less strenuous to the eye.

During the rest of the day, all those below the age of seven wrote on slates; others wrote with metal-nib pens dipped in ink contained in small ceramic troughs built into the desks. All implements of use, like blotters, rag cloths and booklets were provided and had to be tidied away for the next time.

The rules:
1. Silence.
2. Speak when spoken to.
3. Sit with your back straight, chin up and hands folded behind your back.
At all times.

“You will call me Ma’m” (pronounced: maahm), clad in a somber black gown, the teacher for the day announced as she took the cane off the blackboard into her very accustomed hands. Dressed appropriately in the right costumes for the period, I in a frilly white tunic and my sonny boy in a very formal waist coat, we sat in rapt attention as Ma’m explained the components of dimes, shillings and pounds and how to add them up.

Every distraction was promptly punished. The serial offender stood atop a short stool, facing the wall. He wore the shameful ‘dunce hat’. Fidgeting fingers were harnessed in finger cuffs and strapped behind the back. Slouchers, like myself, were corrected with a purpose-built wooden plank such that when propped between my back and arms folded over to hold it firmly in position, there was no way I would slouch again. Try it, you will end up with the straightest back bone you have ever seen.

Now, before you start wondering where I am going with this, here’s the story. Over the school spring break this time, my husband’s work brought us to a little town called Reading, in the Berkshire countryside of England. The quintessential British weather made it a chore to even contemplate stepping out, but three days of staying in, during a holiday, had brought us dangerously close to zero sanity. Sweet home Wimbledon was a long drive away and the ‘Victorian Classroom Experience’ in the local museum seemed like quite a welcome change.

And this little time-travel, opened its own Pandora’s box. Amusing to say the least, and thought-provoking for most, living through one hour of Victorian strictness brought to the fore, thanks, for a lot of what we have today, and, regret, for so much we have turned our back to.

The severity of the system, the curriculum covered and the etiquette conducted within the classroom, gave us a practical perspective of the life and times of 19th century England. Protocol seemed to reign.

But coming from strictly disciplined schools in India myself, it was not the Victorian austerity that perked my interest. My focus settled on the contrast that existed in attitudes today. Attitudes that carried their baggage right into academic campuses not just in Britain, but also beyond, and have created a world culture that has become a cause for worry.

The drama that unfolded with every piece of costume shed outside the classroom, would make an instant Broadway hit. The range of facial expressions and decibel variations together with a few amusing observations articulated by some of those who had recovered from the shock, would make brilliant research material for a student of any discipline.

None of my fellow classmates were in the same cheery condition they went in, in. In this melee of femme and fatal instinct, if thoughts could be heard, there would have been mayhem in that small foyer.

Everyone, even if vaguely, knew what the other was thinking.

There is a reason why many parents have a particularly hard time with kids these days. There is a reason why disciplinary bodies across the compass are more challenged than ever. There is a reason why children today do not value much of what they have and who they owe their happiness to. And there is a reason why the word ‘privilege’ is slowly getting diluted.

That reason was lost decades ago, with the methods practiced within that Victorian classroom.

And an experience like this came well-timed and with some consequence. It came like a whiplash that forced us to take stock of latent issues that have been eating away, unseen and diabolical, at an entire society.

We went in as a group of people from varied backgrounds living 21st century urban lives, into a world where education was a privilege, where the educated fashioned etiquette, where propriety demanded decorum, where the pattern ran down the line, and where all of this was respected – in that order. It forced some of my fellow classmates of the day to take a step back and think of what has been left behind; of what might have caused the problem that now plagues entire communities.

While many still scorn rigour and stricter discipline in schools and homes, many more are beginning to understand how much more essential these have become now – specially considering how much our youngsters are left to material devices.

Human instinct is to take what comes easily, for granted. The result is a severe lack of respect for that which does not have to be worked for, for what comes without a loss. Repeated disrespect transfers rapidly and we are left with a community of individuals, each after their own personal gain. ‘Families’ are a mere means of existence. There cannot be many rules in such anarchy of emotionless and vested interests.

The Victorian Ma’m and her governors, inadvertently, laid the foundations for something fundamental when they set off, stiff upper-lipped and waxing lyrical on art or science or mathematics. In expounding knowledge while demanding correctness and indiscriminate gratitude, what they really instilled was ‘respect’ and the means to live with it in life. The same would somehow propagate to the society one came in contact with.

Is this not the sole point of all education?

Walking out of that period classroom, though, this is what I took away with me. The children were rather pensive. They saw how easy they have it today and knew they get away with much. While their parents duly noted this, the children certainly seemed to have learned their lessons very well. Right through the rest of the tour and until the museum closed, they were silent. They only spoke when spoken to. And their hands were tucked behind their backs!

Monday, 14 June 2010

The little big things

Emirates Parent Plus. June 2010.

I had just clicked ‘send’ on the laptop when my little man, deep in thought, dragged his feet into the room. From experience, I knew that I could not have timed the completion of my job better – this was going be a long chat. Or a really short one, depending on how ‘child-friendly’ his thoughts were.
Leaning on my knee and rocking a little, he slowly started.

“Ma, I am a little worried about when I grow up”.

“Why’s that, sweetheart?”

“Because...”

He had started fiddling with his fingers.

“mmm... because when I grow up, I’ll have a wife...”

Of course, I am glad to know that. But any opening like this is best served with stoic silence, for the climax comes soon enough.

“...and she will have a baby one day...”

The wheels in my head were turning at 11,000 RPM. I had to be ready with either the right answer to satisfy him or the perfect evasive tactic so we would both be satisfied.

“... and then she’ll spend all her time with the baby and I’ll be all alone!”

My head plopped onto his in sheer relief after those tense moments of imagining the worst. And while my dear child snuggled into my arms finding the comfort he seeked, little did he realise that I was holding on to ‘him’ for support.

There I was, wondering, more than often, how he feels about my husband and I snatching a few quality moments together (we do that a lot – a quiet snack away from home, an evening out after bed-time or just a quick team-effort in the kitchen) and here was my little muffin worrying that by asking for my attention, he was making his daddy get ‘all alone’. Oh! The myriad mind of a child – what wonders unfold every now and again!

And how easily we can dismiss innocent feelings that children sometimes voice... A young mind is a mine-field bursting with notions and as carers it becomes our responsibility to tread carefully. In our day, there were questions children were ‘allowed’ to ask and there were answers custom-made to thwart the awkward query. Today, it is believed that for their own good, children must be given the truth presented such that it suits their age and maturity. “Because I told you”, is no more an option to get away with. Every “Why?” must be followed by a probable “Because...”.

The risk, of course, runs as the now fashionable ‘information overload’ that comes with misgivings of its own. So at what point does one decide, “This can wait”?

I have laid out the battle I deal with almost every day. The merits of being fore-armed could not be emphasised more, now that my child is quickly growing out of his ‘little’ status into a young boy still not old enough to be ‘big’. So how does one separate these tags? When I tell my son that he cannot handle a serrated bread knife but can go right ahead and make his own scrummy sandwich and, yet, will have to wait a while longer before he can turn on the toaster unsupervised, he becomes a little frump, totally convinced that it is ‘I’ who is “all confused” and does “not know anything”.

Cute? Yes. True? YES! So now, please tell me, is it time that has grown since we were children or are we letting our children grow up before their time? I am torn between the two schools. While I agree that because of the exposure our children have today, we need to carefully carve their personal awareness; I also vehemently disagree that a child be allowed to question every instruction given. Sometimes, “do this”, should be reason enough for things to be done.

Children are children not solely on the basis of chronology, but because of their innocence. In answering every question ‘accurately’, are we not taking away some of the wonder from their being? I worry that we are compromising the very aspect that makes them so endearing.

Why is it that we marvel endlessly at a child fashioning a cat out of two bangles or flexing a ring out of discarded wire? As children ourselves, we were always improvising. So why is there this hue and cry at a glimpse of natural human behaviour decades after our childhood? These are our children, not robots!

Or, is it that the vast knowledge bank we have made accessible to them has, in turn, made them predictable? Mechanical, even. So much so, that the slightest deviation from the norm inspires frenetic acoustics.

The lengths some of us go to, to celebrate creativity in our children is, quite frankly, laughable. While talent must most certainly be cultivated and even cherished, we need to take a moment and look around. These are children! Their minds are meant to be bereft of any walls. They are springs of only fresh thinking. Creativity IS them.

But the society we keep today and the demands of our lifestyles have somehow engendered a growing detachment from childlike fantasy, impossible characters, star dust and sweet dreams. We know that imagination is the essence of innovation. By inadvertently moulding experience even before it can form, I fear, we are eliminating the very core of novelty.

We spend most of our lives being adults. Our children have but a few years of untainted innocence to look back on forever. I believe it is of utmost importance that we nurture this jewel.

As for potent questions on life at large, surely, we can let those rose tints stay on just that little bit longer.
~

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Battlement, bagpipes and a billion bustling colors

Deccan Herald, Sunday, 06 June 2010
http://www.deccanherald.com/content/73550/bustling-colours-amp-bagpipes.html

My eyes are closed. I am aware only of a cold autumnal breeze caressing my face. I take a long whiff of the crisp air and open my eyes, rejuvenated. In front of me, far away, I see a curtain of fog slowly revealing in its translucency, the unmistakable outlines of a fortress. As if hypnotised, the cloud of mist sways to the light filtering in from the street lamps in the distance. The moonlight waltzes in, making the ramparts of the fort suddenly shine out in splendour. It is mesmerising, this sensuous dance between the elements.

Such a magical welcome sparked my romance with Edinburgh almost immediately. Even the taxi ride felt dramatic. The moon was generous with her light and each cobblestone, smoothened with use, glistened its age. The dark, the empty streets, the narrow lanes, the high walls, higher church spires and those cobbles, all told tales many years old. It was as if I was in the 17th century, riding in my horse drawn carriage, as we rumbled through the city. Hiding every now and again around road bends and behind those impressive stone buildings, the fortress on the other side continued its company with us. Never could I ignore its magnificence.

In a city with such a rich heritage, I did not need a plan. Before I knew it, I was down the famous Royal Mile. If the place looked like a dream at night, in bright daylight it looked like a sunflower in full bloom. The market place was vibrant. People were dressed in all colours and wonder of wonders, they all wore a smile. It made sense really. Amid such beauty there couldn’t be room for much more than happiness and goodwill. To prove me right, the bagpipes broke out just then. Three men complete in tartan highland gear turned a regular shopping-spree into grand festivity.

Hoisted atop Castle Rock along the mighty crags of the North Sea, the fort had already impressed upon me its timeless majesty. At 1 ‘o’ clock, it also imposed its power. A loud boom echoed in the mile and a cannon ball unleashed new fantasies. My young son was most wonderful throughout. It was as if even he had enjoyed every moment of the day.

Away from the concrete and plasterboard reality of our automated lives, here is a legacy, treasured with love. In spite of a few modern restorations, the rustic, sophisticated charm and wizardry of an ancient architecture held their own supremacy. No number of tempered glass sheets or shining granite could fade the dignity of this fantastic structure.

The gentle breeze came in again and we settled, by the port of Leith, to traditional haggis and dram (meat pie and peat-smoked scotch whiskey) and smoked salmon. Soon enough, though, the castle yonder, beckoned.

The bagpipers returned and we matched step for step, entranced in the mere awareness of walking through a history that dates back to the 9th century, and a culture that keeps it forever young and exuberant.

The Castle itself, though, is steeped in stories of conflict. From the Scottish Independence wars of the 14th century and the Jacobite Uprising in the 18th, this fort has had a strong military presence that continues.

Earlier in the day, if the numerous regimental museums within the castle had my fauji upbringing bursting with a strong sense of bonding, the National War Museum of Scotland also within the ramparts, had set the tone for what makes this palace most famous among tourist circles today – one reason we were there.

And here is why it has all come alive to me again: tickets for the 2010 chapter of the fabulously colourful annual Edinburgh Festival are already flying out of booking desks. And this year is specially significant as the ceremonial Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (part of the festival) will regale crowds nearing 250,000 in its diamond jubilee year celebrations. On the Esplanade, bagpipes and drums of Scottish regiments and other regimental bands from four continents will converge again in dream-like formations and military precision, to enthrall the spectators in the fort and those viewing them on television screens across the globe.

Amidst all the fever and gusto, one cannot forget for even a moment, what this establishment stands for. What started centuries ago as a ‘last call of the day’ for tavern owners to shut shop so battle-weary soldiers could return to restful quarters, became a customary form of appointed entertainment over the years. Today, the event is so coveted that artists invited from around the world perform throughout the festival season. The military focus remains as unwavering as the awe that this brilliant spectrum of culture and festivity inspires.

Grudgingly, we had to shake free of the spell that this surreal experience of sea, rock and spectacle is, as the lone piper atop the castle battlement paid tribute to comrades killed at war. The retreat that followed was marked by Scottish tunes that, strangely, keep a constant romance simmering in the soul.

The Indian Army band made us proud with their ‘scintillating moves’ and ‘mesmerising’ performance at the 2008 show as did the Indian Navy band last year. The regalia this year promises to be just as exhilarating – see what it is all about at: http://www.eif.co.uk/, http://www.edintattoo.co.uk/

~
http://www.deccanherald.com/content/73550/bustling-colours-amp-bagpipes.html

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Past perfect

The windows were on the left wall of the classroom. That is the side where all the girls sat. The boys sat on the other side. It was a good day and sunlight flooded in to show us why it had to be this way. Girls did needlework so light was essential for that sort of intricate activity. The boys did carpentry; not such a strain to the eye. Other than that, all students below the age of seven wrote on slates and those over, dipped metal-ended nibs into ink contained in tiny ceramic troughs embedded in the desks. Blotters, soft cloths and other implements of use were all provided, to be put away tidily at the end of a task.

The rules, at all times: 1. Silence. 2. Speak when spoken to. 3. Sit with your back straight, chin up and hands folded behind your back.

“You will call me Ma’m” (pronounced: maahm), the teacher for the day announced as she took the cane off the blackboard into her very accustomed hands. Dressed appropriately for the period classroom, I in a frilly white tunic and my sonny boy in a very formal waist coat, we sat in rapt attention as Ma’m explained the components of dimes, shillings and pounds and how to add them up.

Every distraction was promptly punished. The serial offender stood atop a short stool, facing the wall. He wore the shameful ‘dunce hat’. Fidgeting fingers were harnessed in finger cuffs and strapped behind the back. Slouchers, like myself, were corrected with a purpose-built wooden plank such that when propped between my back and arms folded over to hold it firmly in position, there was no way I would slouch again. Try it, you will end up with the straightest back bone you have ever seen.

Over the school spring break this time, my husband’s work brought us to a little town called Reading, in the Berkshire countryside of England. The quintessential British weather made it a chore to even contemplate stepping out, but three days of staying in, during a holiday, had brought us dangerously close to zero sanity. Sweet home Wimbledon was a long drive away and the ‘Victorian Classroom Experience’ in the local museum seemed like quite a welcome change. And it was.

The severity of the system, the curriculum covered and the etiquette conducted within the classroom, gave us a practical perspective of the life and times of 19th century England. But coming from strictly disciplined schools in India myself, it was not the Victorian austerity that perked my interest. My focus settled on the contrast that existed in attitudes today. Attitudes that carried their baggage right into academic campuses not just in Britain, but also beyond, and have created a culture that has become a cause for worry.

The drama that unfolded with every piece of costume shed outside the classroom, would make an instant Broadway hit. The range of facial expressions and decibel variations together with a few amusing observations articulated by some of those who had recovered from the shock, would make brilliant research material for a student of the Stage or even Psychology.

The only ones really quiet were the kids. They knew they have it easy. And their parents had duly noted this.

Keeping this as the base, our discussion moved to a more serious issue. In recent times, politicians have been increasingly concerned with discipline and safety in state-run schools across Britain. These concerns have usually been focussed in counties that have concentrations of so called ‘rough’ areas where unruly behaviour thrives. Situations within those communities make a positive change, understandably, harder to implement. This bitter truth has become a basis for another section of society to choose to live and work away from such pockets. Economic policies and government polity has unfortunately only served to increase this social chasm.

These divides, wherever they exist in the world, have made sure that viles of unruly behaviour and dangers that they will eventually perpetuate, largely remain outside our private school walls of safety and privileged residence. But we are not always exempt from their effects. We walk the same streets, and survive the same laws. It is impossible, therefore, to remain unaffected by what goes on, on the ‘other side’. These are not biases. These are facts that dictate our lives and what we work so hard for.

It is good when an experience like the Victorian Classroom comes along and takes people from mixed backgrounds living 21st century urban lives, into a world where education was a privilege, where the educated fashioned etiquette, where propriety demanded decorum, and where all of this was respected – in that order. It forced some of my fellow classmates of the day to take a step back and think of what has been left behind; of what might have caused the problem that now plagues an entire society.

It all begins at home, right? But when schooling is compulsory and home may not be the best place to learn, the school takes paramount importance. While many still scorn rigour and stricter discipline in local schools, many more are beginning to understand how much more essential these have become now – specially considering the number of youngsters left to their own devices.

In a country like England, for instance, I believe legislation has, inadvertently, helped create a monster. School education here is compulsory. Those who cannot afford to or will not pay the high fees in sought-after privately run schools, have it provided free of cost by the state. The state really takes care of its people in this country. It is indeed a very noble endeavour to ensure basic education for every child and dignity of living for every person in its care. But when there are no strict conditions, even such magnanimity is bound to invite trouble.

Human instinct is to take what comes free, for granted. The result is a severe lack of respect for that which does not have to be worked for, for what comes without a loss. Repeated disrespect transfers across the board and we are left with a community of irresponsible individuals who can only perpetrate further irresponsibility.

Maybe the Victorian Ma’m and her governors had something different in mind when they set off, stiff upper-lipped and waxing lyrical on art or science or math. But what they really taught in those robes was respect, and the means to live with it in life: the sole point of all education.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t stands at the centre of it all. If it seems missing, it must be taught. If it will not be learnt, it must be enforced. Authority has reason to be. When you cannot see it out there, stand in front of a mirror – you will be compelled to answer the person staring back. Does not help to lose face there, does it?

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Sweet dreams are made of this

Emirates Parent Plus. May 2010.

At the end of her first day in grade-I at a local school in China, Ma Xiuxian thanked her teacher and five year-old classmates. A front-bencher, Ma, promised to study hard and contribute to the country. She is 102 years old.

Starting work in a cotton mill at 13, she was married at 18 and has produced nine children, seven of whom she has seen through to university. One would think Ma’s contribution to the country was complete many times over but there seems to be more in her arsenal; and she’s not beginning to hold back now.

For the family, she sold much of her jewellery. For herself, she caressed a dream. That dream has now come true.

This is not something many of us can even comprehend. But ingest this: Ma Xiuxian, at 102, is not just one of the eldest living people on earth, she is its oldest formal student – a first grader with 12 more years of schooling to complete. Her reasons, whatever they might be, can only inspire.

In April 2010, a very old woman created history. She held a dream in her heart and lived it through her children. Nine times over. And when it came to be her turn, it took a century. But it did – she wouldn’t have it any other way. And that’s the point.

Dreams. We all have them. Some, we sleep through; others, we pursue. Still many, we let go of. Opportunity, time, circumstance, intent... familiar words from cocktail evenings and coffee mornings? They make great conversation. They also rule our lives.

But there is another kind of dream: the kind that will not go away. Whether it is a subconscious catalyst or actively sought after, it is what makes us who we are. We can all dream about winning the lottery and never spend another waking moment answering someone else. Or we can master the simple art of persistence and never give up on that one thing that will make us happy for now and pave the path for more satisfaction forever.

We tend to forget this so often. The other day, my son, high on air guitar and out of breath, declared, I want to become the greatest rock star! He has just started guitar lessons and at eight years old, shows immense promise. But tell him to practice his chords and the excuses come pouring out. I don’t want to villianise something as uplifting as music, so, albeit grudgingly, I stop myself. And every time I do, I am painfully aware that I might well be leaving him alone, at a point so close to the line between ‘wanting’ and ‘having’. So close to the point of boundless joy.

We want the best for our children. We also want the best for us. But modern thinkers spend so much advise on ‘not pushing’ and ‘letting them be’ to ‘come into their own’, that something fundamental seems to be forgotten.

To want to succeed, is a basic instinct. We are always pushing the limit. Consider a pair of jeans that will not slide up easily. We tug at it, don’t we. It is in our natural behaviour to try and try. If comfortable, we keep it on, if not, we put it away. We remember to get the next size up when we spot that brand again. Or, in the case of a weight-conscious fashionista, the resolve is to take the self, one size down. Bottom line: we learn.

Think of any task we undertake, however big or small. This is the pattern we follow. No one asks us to stop then, so why are we being bludgeoned with arguments against optimising our child’s performance, specially when that child wants and has it in him or her to excel? At work, that coveted promotion comes by only if the results show cause. That is the universal rule.

The examples are here and now. In doing everything we can to lay out the best for our children and for our lives, the models are already in place. And our children see them all. They can see that we don’t settle for the first choice (unless, of course, that is what we are looking for). And they can see that we will, more often than not, get them what they want - what is best for them. The pattern runs again, until we come up against a wall that cannot be scaled. Nature also teaches us to avoid those.

But first, there has to be that ardent wanting for something. Will we succeed? Not until we go ahead and try, will we? We know this. And I teach it to my child, consciously, every day, much against some self-professed well-wishers whose intentions I am beginning to strongly suspect. Yes, there is a limit beyond which any action starts to fray its very purpose. With children and their vastly disparate potentials, however, there simply cannot be ‘a’ rule. ‘Best practice’ is all very well, and mostly, it is best practiced. But with reason.

My son can become a good guitarist one day. He wants to, anyway. But just how far is he going to get without wanting it badly enough and doing something about it? A dream is only as strong as the dreamer. In the same vein, hope is the essence of life, the root of aspiration and the motive behind work. There has to be an aim. And guiding such aim to fruition, there has to be a Xiuxianesque spirit – as discrete as suitable and as lavish as necessary.

Teach them young. Seed aspiration and motivate success; it is the natural way to be. And ... dream. Dream big.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Better eight than never

Emirates Parent Plus. April 2010.

Five perfectly formed, shining examples of excellence lay neatly arranged in the order of their size on my little fighter’s palm.

Fighter, because he had gone off in a huff, to do my own thing, after grudgingly doing me the favour of drinking his evening milk down to the last drop.

The shining examples were five clay models of vegetables that he moulded in the anger of having to do tea at tea-time. Of course, it didn’t come free – but more of that in a bit.

He does this to me often. Eating quickly enough, just doing anything without a well-wrought explanation, not stopping a task to why? at everything (this is Why?-Phase II; you will be subjected, resistance is futile) are all events I have to be grateful for. And when any of these rare feats is achieved, God knows, I am eternally grateful.

Then he takes off stomping and returns before I could have regained my breath, with a stunner. Maybe for only a little, teeny, weeny while, but at that exhilarating moment, I have to relent. He wins. Again.

Like he did the other day after he had presented his masterpieces in clay and wangled a study-time exemption for it (I did say it didn’t come free). He continued to huff and puff through his dinner and right across his pre-sleep routines. It was an enormous effort to hide my smile, for, coming from an otherwise independent child, this toddler-like scowling was beyond cute (yes again, I did not dare say that to him to his face!).

Our role reversal continued and I played to all his whims. Mary’s little lamb, I-me-myself, in a bid to make it to bed in time, did all that was ‘told’ so as to make sure that the next morning wouldn’t be a nightmare rush to school. The odd raised voice, promptly won a ban against our customary goodnight kiss and cuddle, before my ever-charged battery-on-legs, entered Dreamworld within seconds. Confirming that the steady breathing was indeed of sound sleep, I grabbed my peck on the cheek without which ‘I’ surely would have spent the night awake.

My thoughts hovered long over how powerless he makes me feel at times like this. Squeals of joy when he does something new, the constant giggling on making seven runs and going for more because the ball is stuck on the hibiscus branch beyond my reach, sudden breaks into hip-hop moves when he comes home with a stellar mark sheet ... pain me in a way, because along with the immense love that wells up within, I also realise that before I know it, he will find the means to find joy outside my realm. My little boy won’t want me snooping around his playmates and soon the door to his room will be locked with me on the outside.

Does that leave me enough time to give him all I want to give him? Will I be able to teach him all I want to teach him, while he will still learn from me? Will he remember all the times we’ve shared laughing together? Will I get over all those sleepless nights I spend waiting to wake up, to fall fast asleep at the crack of dawn only to wake up again in minutes? Will he get over all the naughty-corner moments? Would I have done enough? How much is enough?

Or have I got it all wrong – is it me who is learning all the time? “Child is the father of man”, are no hollow words. I realise the truth in them every time I lose patience, to give in eventually. My little child has made me realise, way too many times, that all is well and will continue to be so.

Retrospect (oh! that annoying phenomenon of existence) repeats that what I perceive as insolence, is really, an intelligence beyond his years and hence beyond my expectations. If it is his occasional impishness that gets to me, it also somehow becomes the very reason I glow with pride. Or is it a very regular eight-year-old factor?

Look at the event that triggered this piece, for instance. He did everything in his eight-year-old might, to avoid study-time. He even risked the unpleasantness of infuriating me in his attempt to buy that time to push his task further away. In bringing his clay out and simply getting started on it when I turned my back for a quick hand-wash, knowingly or unknowingly, he had already set off a winner. The delight with which he called out to exhibit his handiwork: masterstroke!

He knows he can churn out art that usually amazes. But first, it also excites him – that kind of thrill is not a candidate for pretence. The little extra touches though: the tiredness and wanting an early dinner, that evening? Thoroughbred fake! It was after 7:00 PM. I simply had to call it quits.

What is he then? A smooth negotiator, a mind player or just an innocent little boy, innocently doing what innocent little boys should be doing, anyway?

Doting that I am, I am certainly no fool for love. My adorable brat, I cannot help believe, knew exactly what he was doing. The more I claim to be an expert on my child, the more he is learning to read ‘me’. He knows when to cajole and, oh! yes! he certainly knows when to bite! If either of these don’t reduce me to tears (though complete exasperation often causes me to forget that I can cry), his earnest, What’s wrong, ma?, most certainly turns the tap trickling.

So where do I stand in the scheme of things? A loving mum, a strict disciplinarian, a tireless facilitator? Or am I just a confused soul that thinks she is smart enough, until it is bed time and her endearing cheeky monkey blows her cover, most often, with a heart-warmingly sleepy, Can you cuddle me, mamma? Tighter?

Friday, 12 February 2010

Scrumptiously, with love

Bangalore Mirror. Tuesday, 23, February, 2010
http://www.bangaloremirror.com/index.aspx?page=others&do=/blogs/default.


I was born in this city and all my adult consciousness has been moulded in its quiet tenacity. Firm ambition laced in placid motives somehow silted by the shores of tradition and I trudged back home.

Only, home was not what I had left behind. Home, I took with me in my heart and that’s where it dwells now – there’s no disputing it: Bangalore is not familiar anymore.

That’s until more returnees surface and crunch, like a force, down ruffled alleys into old nooks that will not change. And within those resilient walls, flavours continue their dance in tandem with quick-footed and practiced waiters who know exactly what their purpose in life is: tireless service to those who walk in and groom their individual banana leaves of perfect proportion, colour and, soon, content.

Like a happy infection, the spirit takes over within moments. It’s like sitting in a sepia mirror box where everyone reflects, with each mouthful, the gastronomic bliss of the other. And each mouthful renews, with greater intensity, the anticipation of the next.

There is a reason Brindavan stays. And every bit of that reason steams, colourfully, off the fresh banana yelle , cheekily tempting a repeat visit.

It had been 20 years since I’d laid foot in that restaurant. I remembered how they moved away India Coffee House. The time I let lag now felt like a crime. In fact, I had even presumed it as another icon, dilapidated and raised down to make way for more unfeelingness that seems to have become Bangalore’s mainstay. But sitting inside the ever-so-unsunlit room, in exactly the same place as years before, watching my friends gasp and sigh at the palya and sambhar, droning "haaki, haaki” to every ladled hand, I could neither drool enough over my own delicious array of hapla, puri and mosuru nor could I get over the child-like delight of these unstoppable food geeks.

Smiles gave way only to furious mastication. I could not call this ‘greed’ –aptitude like this is of an infinitely higher brand. And yet, amidst the bustling of tumblers and hot buckets, there was ample time for chit-chat, plenty of scope to draw out a rasamised future, enough madness to plot the poaching of the bhatru who has churned out, for long suffering decades, the same staid stuff, uniquely, fantastically, consistently.

And there was also enough opportunity to contemplate the steady demise of a city so vibrant and rich in ethos and culture. The very fact that this piece is a tale of rediscovery and a celebration of misplaced pleasure, proves the infidelity of its citizenry.

Advancement has cost us not just our lands but also our emotions. Our distinctness has been compromised. We welcomed change out of naivet̩ and pay the price of awareness. Our perspectives, even, are not our own anymore. Those who care (and there are many still) grovel through and find what they know to belong Рthey will hold on to those strings. But the larger world sits atop the cliff, watching out for the weak links Рand there are far too many.

I do not know how to bridge the gap between inevitable progress and diminishing essence but I know this: the forefathers have ground fierce strength into the foundations of this beautiful city – its soul will not crumble.

And that is why, inspite of yore, while I will not fight for the last room available at the Brindavan, while I will not even feel terrible about cooking up the most improbable excuse for not letting a friend stay there, I will find a way to ensure that, in that dim canteen room, I always have a table to relish the marvels that make this place irreplaceable.

In the heart of the smog and dust of ex-pristine MG Road, its sheer temerity keeps a Bangaloreness, breathing. Though in pockets, the city of our memories lives; the charms remain – earthy, unflinching and primal.

To the Bangalore we love and the Bangaloreness that keeps us loving, I wish, with more love, a sakaath Valentines’ Day.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

A Date with Time

Deccan Herald. Sunday, 03, January, 2010
http://www.deccanherald.com/content/44496/tracking-history-time.html

The Temple of Divine Caesar immortalized the greatest ruler of the largest empire in history, by inscribing his words ‘Veni, Vedi, Vici’ on the altar erected where his body was cremated. While each and every remnant of Roman imperialism that stretches across the Forum opposite the legendary Colloseum evokes strange feelings of awe and humility, this temple held my attention a moment longer than most.

Snippets and visions loomed large and after an emotionally draining experience of touring the Colloseum earlier, dreamy tales of each ruin in the Forum lofted me into ages most delectably drawn in Shakespearean reams.

Noting numbers that bore little relevance to him as ‘dates’, my son had already put forth a remarkable query to me as I dragged my very tired feet from pillar to shrine to palace fronts. A year later, the same question was asked of me, this time very clearly: why do we call a calendar so? What started with the simple intention of finding a quick-finder answer, became, even more quickly, a detailed and laborious trawl across some staggering history and reflection on man and his pursuits, of mind and its capability, of human existence and intent.

From January, through July and every fourth February of our present times, an ancient verdict keeps our busy lives on a track that remains consistent − all eventualities calculated and logically catered for. For, after he came, he saw and he conquered Imperial Rome, Julius Caesar made another conquest. A conquest as significant then, as it is now.

This fascinating story of past, present and continuous future, begins in ancient Egypt, picks its threads through various civilizations, withstands many political deviations of the Romans and after a long period of sustenance, finally settles along a more stable course only in 1582.

Through twists and turns around hundreds of pages of documents and legends, three constants remained − the natural cycles of days, months and years.

And though our perspective remains largely influenced by the shape Julius Caesar gave history the way we know it today, a very mature civilization, much before his time, and deep in scientific understanding, had become obsessed with harnessing the synchronies of the sun, moon and stars, to account for life in a tangible context we now call ‘Time’.

Standing firm in the second decade of this century, my perspective of dates and what we do with them took on a new high with every little detail I uncovered. In the next installment of this three-part series, I will get down to mean numbers, how their relevance changed incessantly and how even such a thing as accountable science can lose ground in the face of greed and misdemeanor.


A Date with Time – Part 2

Past inTense
What started as a quest to please my little son, had turned into a riveting study of times, and how ‘time’ itself came about. The calendar stands quietly measuring our efforts and noting its sequence. But great civilisations before the modern era carry their indelibility into our present. Every ‘day’ that we pass, is a testimony to their creed and a commemoration of their unbelievable knowledge. The heroes before our time remain: the Romans, the Greeks and the Egyptians.

The occults’ magic continues its weave – and I was looped in. As, I dare say, will you. So let the cat out and sink into your couch.

The number game
Indeed, the Egyptians have held secrets and talents as breathtaking as the pyramids and their virtually indestructible mummy inhabitants.

Behind their furrowed foreheads, totems and the like, their advanced knowledge in astronomy had already yielded the ‘Sothic’ year on the basis of their calculation that (yes, again) the earth took 365.25636 days to complete one revolution around the Sun.

This solar calendar that constituted just over 365¼ days had the familiar 12 months of 30 days each. Pretty close you’d think, but a round figure like that, left 5.25 days less than the deduced revolutionary period. So taking a very uncomplicated approach, they added 5 days every year, and one extra day on top, every four years. Impressed?

Now consider the proof of the system’s precision. The ruins of the Temple of Ramses II stand to this day at Abu Simbel. The statue of Ramses is placed among others’, 180 ft away from the only opening to the shrine. For more than 3200 years, this statue has been illuminated by the Sun on 22 February, every single year.

Here's the deal. If the minute difference of 0.00636 days per year (365.25636 - 365.25) had not been accounted for, this date would have changed from the original, many years ago. Over the 3200 year period, the discrepancy would have been of 20 days!

Still thinking? So were some others. Because even now, this placement did not fully align with an actual year. More exactitude followed with another grand civilisation − the Greek. One minor adjustment brought in the concept of a Leap year, adding a day to the shortest month, every four years.

Just think about the minuteness of this aspect and the magnitude of its effect on the dynamic of Time – something we have, ordinarily, grasped very little of, and taken for granted since ever.

Meddle men
Beyond their chiseled looks, there is at least one other reason why the ancient Greeks still evoke quiet reverence while Roman imperialists soar(ed) above the view of men and commanded servile fearfulness.

For however great the history that owns them, one gets quite a glimpse of what single, small minds can do when they meddle with things leagues beyond their tiny universes of pretense and flawed understanding.

Enter: The Romans − a mammoth era.
While other men of substance pursued their pertinent passions, Julius Caesar reinforced the Greek leap of day when the Romans re-structured the calendar during their rule in Egypt.

The consequences of this momentous re-formulation were substantial and the reason is a long-winded tale of multiple theories, incessant discoveries, personal vendetta and gross misuse of power.

wasteful, for, Romulus, the founder of Rome, had already devised a calendar with ten months, six of 30 days and four of 31 days, making a total of 304 days. This strictly lunar calendar started with March and ended with December. After a gap, the next year would start on a new moon to bring it back in sync with the lunar cycle.

What determined the length of that gap? The individual convenience of the most influential council of the time.

Numerous attempts were made at synchronising the lunar calendar with the solar cycle and in spite of political interferences and their natural ill effects, more changes continued. An extra two months were added − January in the beginning and February at the end (guess they had to accept that sun or no sun, winter too had to be accounted for).

But now, the luni-solar year had 354 days. The infamy of Roman oddities and all-encompassing superstition is common knowledge. So how could the calendar be exempt from its onslaught?! To undo the inauspicious effects of the even number, more days were added and deducted variously across the months, making the year 355 days long. Another modification changed the order of the months, so that February followed January. A deficit of 10 ¼ days resulted.

Think this: our local civic bodies and contract mercenaries are not in sole credit of the doing-and-redoing-of-the-done saga – its roots are in civilisations many centuries olde.

If that draws some comfort, prepare for a solution also: the intercalary period. A buffer of around 23 days, the Intercalans or Mercedonious, as it was called, was inserted in February, every alternate year, while five days were dropped in Intercalary days (its resemblance to the manner in which the road in front of our house was re-laid last week, is uncanny). What presented itself at the end was a rather compliant four year period, averaging 366 ¼ days per year. The one extra day was adjusted every 24 years, by dropping a Mercedonious month.

Power struggle
Funny we crib about economic recession and loss of jobs today, when these sires dropped whole months! But even that didn’t work, as this thoroughly complicated system still fell short of synchronising with the phases of the moon (snort away, New Moon fans). So what did they do? More mayhem − the decisions on additions and lengths of Intercalary months, became the onus of a panel of high priests. They must have been high indeed, for even at an age when an orbiting rocket was unfathomable, they imagined they could disregard the span of the very orbs that make us run ‘our’ orbits.

Though, on that account, not much has changed over the centuries, please remember, we are talking of an age of not just superstition and questionable pragmatism, but also of high volatility and incestuous power-mongery. These pontiffs and their unscrupulous political agendas flourished and abuse of office thrived (I did say, nothing much has changed). But this was beyond ridiculous - the inconsistencies caused the months to waver across seasons, so much so that by the time Julius Caesar wore the crown, the civil equinox was three months away from the astronomical equinox!

Being an hour late for a swearing-in ceremony where traffic is the deterrent, suddenly seems legitimate, doesn’t it? But Mr JC wasn’t all that complacent, after all. Neither was he completely blind, for that matter. Consultations with Alexandrian astronomers lead to abandoning the idea of aligning the months with lunar cycles. The farce miraculously faded and the year was reformulated as we recognize it.

Caesar was recognised too – the old togas in his senate honoured his initiative and named the sixth month, July, after him. More christening of months after rulers took place and finer logistics were addressed.

From the perspective of modern relevance, the Julian calendar, starting in 45BC, was configured as 365.25 days long and came to have, on a regular basis (keep breathing) 365 days across 12 months, with a leap year every 4 years, when February got longer. The year began in January, saw spring in March and contemplated fall in September.

The last part of this series will look into the only part that remained to be tackled: a way to chart each ‘day’ of those months. The influences on that formulation were as simple as they were practical. People, formed the focus; and their practice, the measure of all progression – each relative to the other.


A Date with Time – Part 3

Simple interest
The Sun and Moon were at last in viable synchrony and the broad framework of months had been charted. Politics, priesthood and science had all circumvented and tangled with each other repeatedly. But the finest details were yet to be worked out.

When there is civilisation, there is custom and trading – the basis of livelihood and society. Makes sense then, that even chronology should take its perspective from society itself and its daily labour.

With due attention to the detail of individual days, each month was divided into three simple points of reference.

The Kalends was the first day of the month. It was the day debts were due and interests were incurred. Books maintained to track payments were called ‘calendarium’ – our modern day ‘calendar’.

The intention behind my labour was met! My son’s question answered, I now ploughed on to find answers to questions of my own.

The Ides was the 15th day in a 31 day month and the 13th day in the other months. The Nones was the 9th day before the Ides, hence being either the 5th or the 7th of the month.

Countdown Conundrum
In tune with our penchant for countdowns, the Julian calendar calculated days inclusively backwards from one of the three points of reference.
So as per the Romans of yore, Christmas Day is on ‘VII kalends January’, my son’s birthday falls on ‘VIII kalends February’ and Teachers’ day would be the Julian ‘nones of September’.

Had he paid heed when the Soothsayer warned, 'beware the ides of March', Julius Caesar would have lived to learn the depths to which greed could take even the most trusted coterie. The 15th of March spelled doom in Shakespeare's play and was quite the reflection of what went on in Rome during those rather turbulent times.

Church bells ring
Waves galloped over waves of treachery and sinister ploys. Christ took birth and the basis of a new religion was trickling its way into disintegrating Roman dogmas. The Julian calendar recorded this advent and most of what we know of then and beyond, until the Christian ‘Church’ started gaining ground.

‘Time’ moved on fervently and in 1582, yet another problem was discovered. The calculation of the leap year would amount to nearly 11 days more in a thousand years, as the true calculation was not six hours over the 365 days in the Julian year, but five hours and 49 minutes.

Based on the motion of the earth around the sun, while the months bore no connection with the motion of the moon, the Julian calendar was reformed. Pope Gregory XII brought forward the Julian year by ten days. The 5th of October became the 15th of October.

This rule was then prescribed for all Christendom. Barring Russia and the Greek Church, most of the world moved toward adopting the Gregorian calendar.

The length of the year is 365 days, 5hrs, 48 minutes and 46 seconds and the time between two full moons is 29.53 days. There's a leap year every 4th year, where February carries 29 days instead of the usual 28. January, March, May, July, August, October and December have 31 days each and the rest have 30.

Though this still doesn’t stop the Blue Moon from appearing in January 2010, it is essentially the modern world calendar, where every page, however formatted, bears testimony to Egyptian exactitude, Greek genius, Julian grit and Christian endeavour.

And as we enter a new decade in our current century, instead of the Julian manner of looking back on things, thankfully, we count ever forward, anticipating the future. Happy 2010.

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http://www.deccanherald.com/content/44496/tracking-history-time.html