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?”


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

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:,