Friday, January 30, 2009

Free Speech and more

Ever wonder why I never, ok rarely diss people on my blog? Because I am petrified of libel. You never know if they are reading it. And if I tell you that they, especially the ones with influence inversely proportional to their IQ, and yes, their influence is sweeping than yours or mine, think that a 2-penny blogger and her opinions are worthy of libel, what will you say? I bet nothing. You will just excuse yourself and laugh your guts out. Yes? But this poor sod living in Netherlands who I had not heard about until today, hasn’t been so lucky. He has tendered an apology. For what? For expressing his opinions of the coverage of the Mumbai Mayhem by some journalists, I refuse to name names, I have no idea what my rights are, but you can read a cached copy here [ scroll down all the way]. I am outraged at this blogger. Really, how could he say these things? That this is shoddy journalism? But how can it be, for they are admirable journos. He said that microphones were stuck in the faces of victim’s relatives and we all saw it on TV, didn’t we? But how can that be, for they are sensitive journos. He said sensitive information about where the hostages were, were broadcast and we all saw it on TV, live. But how can that be? They are ethical journos. He said information was extracted about hostages’ family. But how can that be? They are principled journos. He said it was unethical. But how can that be? They are venerable journos.

And how would admirable, sensitive, ethical, principled and venerable journalists react to an opinion of a blogger? By bringing on a libel suit of course. Because the last time I checked, libel, especially against public-figures, should involve malice. And there was in this blogger’s post. Actual malice and malevolence against a person or people. We just didn’t see it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

This just in

Time: 7:40 a.m., today
Place: Home

Aie: If you whine one more time because you want watch another episode of Handy Manny, I promise you that I'll throw that TV out the window.

Chip(looking straight in my eye): If you do that, I'll throw away the playstation!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Learning Disabilities

Tharini sent me this and I was so heartened to see a symposium like this in India. This is in Chennai, but I hope a simlar effort gets undertaken in other cities as well.

What it is
A multi-disciplinary conference on dyslexia- Samyukth on Jan 30 and Jan 31 at IIT Madras.

Why you should attend
The programme aims at discussing solutions in an Indian context and includes language acquisition processing and disorders in children with learning disability, behavior modification and social issues, efficacy of Math games, kinesiology, indigenous remedial techniques that work, the Irlen syndrome (a learning disorder associated with dyslexia), adaptations and innovations in helping children from 5-15 and the Multiple Intelligence Approach.

Who are the speakers
The event hosts speakers from across the world- Mala Nataraj, (Department of Mathematics Selwyn College, NZ), Mindy Eichorn (Special Educator from Tennesssee), Shobha Madhavan (Lecturer- Deeside College, UK) , experts on learning disability, multiple intelligence, orthography and literacy acquisition, Irlen research, and leading faculty from NIMHANS

Who should attend
This conference is open to remedial teachers, therapists, mainstream teachers, Principals, counselors and parents, students and researchers who are interested in the field. The event involves psychiatrists, special educators and mainstream teachers presenting their experience and work in the field of dyslexia

MDA at 044-65622462 or Subha Vaidyanathan at 98844-18327

Last word:- "Early identification of children "at risk" and early intervention makes main-streaming easier", says Lakshmi Radhakrishnan, senior consultant from Madras Dyslexia Association (MDA)," and who can be better equipped to help, than a child's teacher?"

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sweeter His Thoughts

I once asked BigGeek when his first crush was. He had thought for a moment and said “Second Standard.” Ok, a little early than most. I, obviously needed to react in a grown-up, responsible fashion. “That’s sick.” I said smugly, my eyes as narrow as slits, looking down at him. Tsk-tsking too for the effect. BigGeek was clearly displeased with my less than bubbly reaction and calmly spent the next fifteen minutes in a ferocious vendetta by telling me certain things about people I know too well, ensuring for life, my inability to see the said folks in the eye.

Pride goes before a fall, they say, and my hubris has, a few dozen moons later, come to bite me in the south. Like father, like son. There is no cure for genes, you know? Yes, Chip with all of his three and half years behind him fancies someone at school. My own two dim eyes have witnessed it. How she brings him his jacket everyday and ties his shoes. (in knots that his mother cannot undo- poetic, uh?) And how he compliments her earrings and promises to share ALL his toys with her, including the shiny helium-filled balloons bought for a party; when the mere suggestion of giving each one to a kid in attendance triggered a level-5 meltdown. And begs to have her over for a playdate.

This morning as we sat down for breakfast, BigGeek solved a puzzle. Chip’s school has a rotating policy – the two rooms for their age-group switch teachers weekly. Why it is so is only known to the powers that be. Chip, would always whine about going to one class or another. At first we thought maybe it was the teacher, (it was to a certain extent) but the last few weeks, it was becoming rather haphazard. Until BigGeek understood what had been happening. Chip, would go to the class he was assigned to for that week, peep in and look for N. Not having found her, he would run to the other class and look for her there. If she was in the class he was not assigned, Chip would break out in a mega-whine.

Today, I went to drop Chip off and while I was punching the code to enter, Chip saw N’s car pull. “Look Aie! That’s car. I want to wait for her.” So while N’s mom parked the car, and N stepped out, we stood out in the freezing cold, a wide grin plastered on Chip’s face. As soon as N saw Chip, she came running over and held his hand. I punched the code again and we all entered. “We must have N over for a playdate oneday.” I said to N’s mom. “Yes, yes, at home it’s always Chip this and Chip that.” I felt a little relieved. As the two kids ran to their room, Chip had forgotten Aie. “Bye Chip” I said, but he did not hear me. He was busy chatting with N and I as walked to my car, I knew my son had grown up.*

*This is written in a moment of mush. Two hours later, I know I am going to tell him to “grow up” and stop being a baby. Motherhood is mostly about contradictions.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sunlight on a broken column

Set in colonial India of the late 30s, Sunlight on a broken column by Attia Hosain paints a picture of a traditional, purdah-observing upper crust Muslim family in Lucknow. Narrated by the protagonist, a 15-year old Laila (who does not observe purdah), born into a wealthy family of taluqdars, but orphaned at an early age, the narrative follows her through her teenage years and early twenties, in what is essentially a coming-of-age story during tumultuous times of a freedom struggle and partition.

What worked for me
The language, the pace. It’s not a large book – it’s about 300 pages, more like a novella than a novel, yet it manages to maintain that there-is-all-the-time-in-the-world-for-this-story kind of pace. The language is lilting, almost poetic, and has the grandeur of Urdu in it. Not for a minute do you feel, that the subject matter could have been better expressed in Hindi or Urdu. This is not really a plot driven book, but the narrative evolves through its characters seen through Laila’s eyes. The book begins with a slice of life depiction and it does a fantastic job of looking at day-to-day life like a 15-year old. It reminded me of how I was when I was 15. Slightly self-centered, questioning, over-confident, highly distractible. Laila is all those things and it makes her an endearing protagonist. What I also enjoyed is the depiction of wealthy Muslims – their customs and traditions all portrayed through every-day events. The books starts with Laila’s life – her dreams, her desires and then it slowly but deliberately weaves a thick mesh of love, ambition and most importantly of a way of life that soon must become extinct. In that it evokes the same nostalgia, a wistful longing, a lament of sorts really that resonates with Gone with the Wind.

What did not work for me
The end. I did not really like how Hosain chose to end the book. It ends on a positive note, but I got the feeling that it was all too-constructed.

Hot or Drop
Definitely hot. It’s putdownable – and I meant it in the very positive sense of the word. While you will not feel compelled to stay up nights to read this book, you will want to come back to it after a long day like you would want to meet a dear old friend – for the warmth, the comfort and the nostalgia.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Let it snow

Its 7:30 in the morning and I chase Chip downstairs for breakfast. He looks out the window and says in his best Leo-from-the-little-einstein-voice “Oh my god. I cannot believe it!” I follow his little index finger pointed at the window thinking something utterly disastrous has happened. It is a Wednesday and I am late. Would have been perfect timing, actually. But no. Not today. I look out the window and see something that is best said by pictures. The First Snow Of The Season. We’ll it’s only a dusting but it covers the road and the cars and the roof and trees. All very pretty, yes, but the damn plough hasn’t cleaned the road.

I give Chip his milk and grind some coffee, make some toast and sit down at the table.
“So, now we can go and make a snowman?” Chip asks.
“There isn’t enough snow.”

Well, we could have made miniature snowmen, but hey, I am not 3 and I have a job to get to, not to mention the ghastly traffic because well, in the spring and summer and fall months, people simply forget how to drive even in a quarter inch of snow. Snowmen are hardly the agenda on a Wednesday morning. (How do you blow a raspberry on the blog without having to spit all over the monitor?)

“Of course there is” Chip says.
Chip, I am convinced will be a good negotiator. He never lets go. Never.
“We can collect all the snow from the backyard and from the front and make a BIG snowman.”

Ok. Plan B, then.
“It’s going to get warmer later today, your snowman will melt.”
That buys me enough time to finish my toast.
“How warm?”
“Warm enough to melt the snow. There won’t be any snow when we get back in the evening.”
“Let’s go ice skating then.”

I can’t ice-skate. Or ski. I have the limb co-ordination and balance of a three-toed sloth. I waddle and fall down. Mostly. Actually, that’s not completely accurate. I can’t ski. I have never ice-skated. This past weekend, a friend coerced me gently to go ice-skating. I was so scared that when we had to go run some errands before the rendezvous, I wore a skirt and boots. BigGeek looked quizzically at me – and I couldn’t tell if it was because my selection of attire was completely inappropriate for an afternoon on ice or if it was because my sides bulged out like cheese popovers.

“You are going to ice-skate in THAT?”
A-ha. No cheese popovers. That means- I have either slimmed down or the man has wisened up. Prolly the second.
“No. I am not ice-skating in that.”
“We won’t have time to change.”
“No. I am not ice-skating. It’s my insurance. So I don’t have to ice-skate.”

We never did end up going. We came home, tried and decided to call the friends over to drink beer instead. At least there is no danger of slipping and falling. Not right away in any case.

So. End of long, un-necessary deviation from that Wednesday morning. Chip had been a bit put-off that we cancelled ice-skating the past weekend.

“You want to ice-skate now? I asked him.
“Yes. Let go get me some skates and we can ice-skate on the road.”
“You have to go to a rink to ice-skate. You can’t ice skate on roads.”
His lips pouted and steam came out his ears. A nuclear-grade tantrum was brewing.
“I want to ice skate now.”

Plan C.
“Look outside. Is that snow or ice?”
“And do we say ice-skating or snow-skating?”
“Then how can you skate when it snows?”
Chip thought for a second.
“We need ice to skate.”
“Eggggzactly” I said being quite proud of myself for having defeated a three year old through logic.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Live in, live out

So, there was this snippet of news that caught my eye. National Women’s Council Chair Girija Vyas declared that

Neither the live-in relationship is acceptable nor it is needed in India, NCW Chairperson Girija Vyas told reporters here. She alleged the live-in relationship of the West was against human values and the country does not need it. According to her, the NCW has asked Maharashtra government to stop its move to give legal sanctity to live-in relationship.

My knee jerk reaction was to obviously think this is all ludicrous. Why should a single person, decide the fate of millions of women that do want a live-in relationship? They are adults and have every right to make their own choices, don’t they? How do two consenting adults that choose to live together go against human values? Which human values, exactly? This is what grates me about Indian society in general. Our inability to give choices. Our refusal to evolve, socially speaking.

I don’t see anything wrong with live-in relationships at all. Perhaps it’s because I have been living in the “West” for so long or perhaps because BigGeek and I moved in together (and yes, our parents knew) before we were married. It was something that we, two people above 18 years of age decided to do. And accept whatever (undesirable) consequences too.

Late last year, it seems, Maharashtra decided to pass a legislation that will legalise live-in relationships. In that, the definition of “wife” would be changed to include a woman who has lived with a man for several years without marriage. So, this would obviously include polygamous relationships. And that is something I don’t like. A live-in relationship is not a marriage. It is a relationship that takes place in-lieu of marriage (as a long-term) or before marriage (as short-term). They cannot and should not be treated as equal. Marriage is a contract of sorts. A live-in relationship is not. A marriage confers upon the two people entering it, some legal protection; live-in relationships do not and should not. Of course it also is harder getting out of marriage than it is out of a live-in relationship.

So, I think Girija Vyas is a bit confused about all this. She is confusing legally changing the definition of “wife”, with social sanction of live-in relationships. They are two different issues altogether. Apples and oranges. Legalising something does not necessarily make it socially acceptable. For example, it is illegal to marry off 13 year olds. But in some parts of Rajasthan, it is a very socially acceptable thing to do and is regularly done.

Live-in relationships have their place. Consenting adults that get into them (whether it is monogamous or polygamous) know exactly what it entails. This relationship is not bound or shacked by the marriage laws and yes, to some, it can be liberating. What is the point in trying to transform it, legally, into a marriage?

Friday, January 9, 2009

¿Se Habla Español?

Soon, I hope I can answer that question with a Si, hablo Español. I am learning Spanish. Yes! I, for as long as I can remember have wanted to learn a foreign language. French would have been my first choice. I just think it feels like silk and velvet on your ears. It’s just so beautiful to listen to. But it’s impractical. At least where I live. Spanish is spoken fairly widely here- there are TV channels and radio stations, not to mention actual people who speak in Spanish everywhere I turn. So, Spanish it is.

With a job and a killer commute and a young child, taking time to go to a local college for classes would not have worked out. Plus I want to do things at my own pace. Enjoy the ride, you know. So when a friend told me of the Radio Lingua Network on iTunes has free podcasts for learning Spanish, I jumped. Not really hoping much, because, well, if it’s free, how good can it be? But I am blown away with Coffee Break Spanish. I listen to it on my uber long commute or when I jump on the treadmill. Suddenly the boring commute and the even more boring treadmill has a purpose. To enable me to learn Spanish. The lessons are 30 minute podcasts and I have covered the first 10. Several times. Listened to them for 2 weeks now. They are encouraging and enjoyable. Never thought it would be this much fun. Of course, I am at a point where I have graduated from – “Hey this is not too difficult” to “I am so damn confused.” And that is a good thing, I think.

I know three and a half languages, half because I can only speak a smattering of Kannada, not read or write it and am not terribly fluent either, but I can understand and will be able to get by in Kannada-only town. And of course I speak, read and write Hindi, Marathi and the Queen’s language. But all these languages were learnt before I was eight. I did not study their grammar while learning and it was mostly a hit-and-miss, learn as you go kinda experience. Just the way Chip is picking up Marathi and English (and a smattering of Spanish too in school) now. Which brings me to the point of how different is to learn a language in your adulthood. You are more mindful looking for patterns, you want to learn the rules and you are conscious and embarrassed to a certain extent to speak it to a native.

In the last two weeks, I have learnt something about learning a language in your adulthood. And the most important point I think I have learned is to stop translating from English or Marathi into Spanish. It just doesn’t work. At best, it is ridiculous, at worst disastrous. Take for example a very common English phrase, ‘See you later’. Try to translate that word for word in Marathi - Tula nantar baghoo, which sounds ridiculous and in Hindi – Dekhenge tumhe baad me, which is disastrous. Yesterday, I replied to a friend’s email (who is supposed to be my Spanish language buddy) with a Spanish literal translation of “see you soon’ – Veremos te pronto. I have no idea if it sounds ridiculous in Spanish especially in the context in which I said it. The correct phrase probably should have been Hasta pronto, which literally means until soon, a phrase you would not use in English at all. So, for me to get a true fluency I really need to think in Spanish. I don’t know if I will ever reach that stage. I hope to. Until then, I’ll work at those verb conjugations and tenses and idioms and listen to those podcasts every week for several hours. So, wish me ¡Bueno Suerto!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Traffic Light

We are driving home from school. We stop at a crossroad, at a light.
Chip: Whaddya waiting for?
Aie: What color is the light, Chip?
Chip: Red.
Aie: What color should the light be for us to go?
Chip: Green.
Aie: Right, so I am waiting until it turns green. Why don’t you sing your green light song?
This is a tradition we have followed ever since Chip started stringing sentences. To pass time at a light, I made up a silly song – “Green light, green light lavkar ye.”
Chip: That doesn’t make the light go green.

I am aghast. When did my three year old son realize this?

Aie: Of course it does. You have sung it scores of times before and the light has turned green, no?
Chip: No. No. This light (pointing to the light on the street to our light) will turn yellow, then it will turn red. Then our light will turn green. Then we can go.
Aie: Who told you that?
Chip: I see it.
Aie: No, your song makes the light go green.

Chip slaps his forehead and shakes his head. But the angels are on my side today. As luck could have it, the light on the street to our right, turns red, but the light in front us does not turn green. It stays red. The light above our heads (for the onward traffic) turns green, which Chip can’t see.

Chip: What just happened? (peers to the street on our right). That light is red. (peers to the street on our left) That light is also red. (points to the light in front of us) That is also red. Why is it not green? It should have been green.
Aie: Because you did not sing your song.

Chip looks at me in disbelief. But his impeccable logic has been proven wrong. He begins to sing, with utter skepticism, in a half-whisper, hurriedly. The light stays red. Chip is triumphant.
Chip: See, see? I told you. The song does not turn the light green.

Aie: Your heart wasn’t in the song. Sing it with love and sing it loudly. The light prolly did not hear you.

Chip shoots a “I can believe this is my mother” glance at me. But he sings. In a robust voice. Again, luck is on my side today. The light changes from red to green. I let out a hearty laugh.

Aie: See? The light turned green. It was your song.

I can’t stop smiling. Chip is awfully quiet on the ride home.

Later, at night, I narrate the events to BigGeek who laughs and then asks me, “Did you tell him he was right? That songs don’t change traffic lights and that yes, his logic was correct?” A wicked gleam lights up my eyes. “Of course not.” I answer, leaving a very annoyed BigGeek. My little boy is growing up too fast!

And with that, a very happy New Year to all of you!