Monday, 21 July 2014

Which story will you tell your daughter tonight?

"Tell me a story, Mummy" she will say at bedtime, her eyes still wide open, her tiny fingers holding on to your hand, the night lamp still darting shadows on the childish paintings that adorn her bedroom walls. Paintings of rainbows, of butterflies, of a Sun that shines over a small house, stick figures of a family with smiling, happy faces.

Yes, a story. You want to tell her stories of bravery, of dreams, of reaching for the impossible and finding her true self. All that you want her to achieve. You want to tell her a story about the rainbow and the sunlight, about the Sun that shines brightly as she hopskotches her way onto her shiny dreams.

But then there is another story you need to tell her. A story about darkness and a cloud called bad touch, that rains only in the dark shadows where evil awaits wearing masks that she may not recognize - a relative, a helper, a cleaner, a neighbour. Someone she trusts. Someone she has seen everyday. Yet someone who could blacken the rainbow forever. Who could turn her brightly colored paintings into splashes of black and red in an instant.

It is a story that is probably being shared by millions of parents to their children in homes across India tonight even as the latest Bangalore rape reminds us again of the monsters that lurk beneath the faces we see everyday and the utter fear and the utter helplessness that we feel as parents.

Which story will you tell her? How can she be brave if you ask her to be scared?  How can we say we are free if we are worried sick every moment our children are away from us in schools, in daycares, in the very places that are supposed to nurture them and guide them?

How can we answer their innocent questions?

"Is touching on the shoulder ok, Mama?" "Or on the leg?"

"Are we safe outside school?"

"Why are bad people allowed in the school?"

One incident. Many questions. Are we brave enough to answer them for our children? Will we again forget till the next incident comes back to haunt us? How can we tell them the right stories, make them continue to paint in the bright colours that is their right as children?

I am a mother. I have a daughter. And I want to hold her hand and show her the stars, help her paint her dreams in myriad hues of imagination. I do not want her to cower in fear, afraid of lurking shadows at every corner. I am a mother. I want my daughter to be safe. Is that too much to ask for?

So yes, I will tell her a story tonight. A story of rainbows and the Sun that shines over all the dark clouds. Tonight and every single night till no monsters can even lurk near her dreams.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Bookworm Gardens and Tall Tales

Far away from the addictive laddoos of Chotta Bheem, far away from the flashing screens of the iPad, far away from the digital world that is increasingly locking our children and possibly their imaginations too, there lies another magical world that sets them free, a world of books. At a time when they and their imaginations should both be running free and wild in the meadows of childhood, scraping their knees, falling down, but experiencing the sheer joy of running without fear; a lot of todays' children are unfortunately ignoring the magical world that can shape their minds, increase their vocabulary, widen their horizons and indeed, paint a whole new world.

A world that a lot of us parents wish our children to enter into as we keep taking them to bookshops and buying the latest stories that seem to be firing their imagination from Wimpy Kids' wimpy antics to Geronimo Sliton's scaredy mouse habits. But it is a world that is increasingly becoming difficult for our children to comprehend and understand given the explosion of other media that is blinding them with their bright colors and jazzy images as they stand transfixed, lost, as if admiring candies in a candy store but unable to make up their minds.

Yes, we read them bed-time tales, yes there are storytelling sessions nowadays which encourage creativity and reading habits in children. But they all seem to be fighting a losing battle as bookstore sales drop and library memberships dwindle and children wrinkle their noses at classics and fairy tales as if they were poisons similar to another forced dose of carrots or banana.

And then I read about this. Bookworm Gardens. 

Located in Wisconsin, a DisneyWorld to a booklover, the park, which has free entrance for all, is a place where children and their imaginations can roam free, in a world of classic stories and much loved tales brought to life creatively and humorously. A packed lunch and a day to roam free with stories and imaginations. That is what the park offers.

We may not have such a luxury here. But we do have farms and parks, gardens and myriad lost, old stories that lurk in the everyday mundane. Can we not use them to create such a beautiful world for our children through storytelling; can we not picturize for them a world full of the greatest riches and boundless pleasures, a world locked between the covers of the old pages of a book, a world which only they have the magic key to open, when they finally flip the covers open?

A confirmed bookworm I am for sure, my world shaped by the books I have read since childhood and the new ones that I hope to read everyday. But after all, John Lenon did say, "You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one."

If more and more parents, try painting this picture, our children too will rediscover the magic of books all over again. Till then we may as well cower in fear as the screechy sirens of the Chotta Bheem theme song threatens to invade sanity.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


He saw a new face,
Sharing, teaching,
A scarf covering
One side of her face,
Her wisps of curly hair,
Her dark black eyes,
Mere glimpses.  She
Was beauty, she was grace.

Till one day, thunder
Roared, the wind howled,
Sheets of incessant rain.
Her scarf blew away,
No match for the gale. And
She turned, he flinched,
Her grace unmasked. He
Tried not to look away.

His face burnt with shame.
Horror. Anger. The scars
From a distant past. Did they
Make her lesser than whole?
But she smiled, she laughed, 
As the rain caressed her face,
Washing away the pain, baring
Her real grace, her unbeaten soul.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Paper Memories

Paper memories
Tiny bits of paper,
Dreams colored and
wrapped with love,
A hut drenched in rain,
A bird too large,
The Sun's bright rays
The river, a boat,
A blue mountain.

She gives you her card,
Glued with imagination,
Painted with dreams,
Drawn with hope,
“I am busy.” you say
Absent maid,
ever-present boss,
Card discarded. Too much
For you to cope.

Tiny bits of paper
Faded colors,
Now line the walls,
Of the empty nest.
The cards are all
that’s left in time.
Time’s flown, so has she, 
taken all the rest.    

You dust each old card,
10 times a day,
Each forgotten moment,
Now a shadow of a wreath.
You pick up the phone,
You call, and you hear
“I am busy, Mummy”

Paper memories’ death.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Vagaries of a writers' life

You battled for hours,
Late into the forgotten night,
Chasing your lost voice.
Laptop keys and imagination,
Locked in the usual tireless fight.

Bleary eyed, you typed send,
Black coffee, stale breath.
Chipped nails. Chopped dreams.
And then the inevitable mail.
An inch closer to writing death?

You wrote in a fury, uncaring,
Not stopping to even think,
Of the metaphors or the voice.
A rush of words, spit out,
Sent before you could blink.

400 likes, 20 shares,
Triple the usual view.
Just when the last candle
Blew out, the letter
Came with the morning dew.

What’s your real voice?

Does the writer have a choice?

Sunday, 20 April 2014

There's always something left to love

No shrivelled body,
No ashes and no dust,
No piece of paper,
To anul a relationship gone bust.

No disappearance,
No clean break,
If only it were so easy to end,
Friendship that turned fake.

Just like those childhood moments,
You close your eyes tight, you run,
Away from the strong, bitter medicine,
That always burnt your tongue.
Away from the creamy froth you scooped
Out in vain from the spoilt milk.

The hollow wall of formality pounds,
Restlessly against your shattered heart.
You jump as the final nail in the coffin
Of dead friendship, jabs again - a lost start.

No disappearance,
No clean break,
If only it were so easy to end,
Friendship that turned fake.

You stand still, reluctant to face the change,
Even as Facebook likes and twitter pokes,
Widen the cracks, seem easier to crack,
And replace your heartfelt chats and endless
But just as the wheel turns, you hold on,still,
“there’s always something left to love” you feel,
As you collect the fragments of memories,
That refused to get crushed in time’s wheel.

No disappearance,
No clean break,
If only it were so easy to end,
Friendship that turned fake.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Lessons I had forgotten

Once upon a time when we were all children and we used to read children’s books, we used to always look for the morals at the end of the story –morals that crystallized the learnings for us, that taught us right from wrong, good from evil.

Today, far removed from the black and white angelic world of childhood, as we sit surrounded by the quagmire of grey and the wall of cynicism that surrounds us, children’s stories might seem to be an alien concept to us-only fit for reading at bedtime to our children, at best.

But reading them again today, with my daughter, I find new meaning in the old tales, new power in the words that the much-loved characters used to say, new lessons for life today.

We may not want to read the morals again, but some of the simplest dialogues in our best-loved childhood books hold some powerful lessons for the struggles we go through in life. A few are mentioned below:

From Alice in Wonderland

A wonderfully clear message when we are fighting confusion in life and looking for the right road to turn to
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
"I don't much care where –"
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go.

On change and what that means
“I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”

From Winnie the Pooh

When you lose faith and need to believe in yourself all over again
“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you believe and smarter than you think”

On friendship, in a cynical adult world when we start believing more in Facebook likes than real friendships
 “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.”

From the Little Prince
On the power of the heart when the mind is all you can hear
“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.” 

On loneliness and being alone
“Where are the people?” resumed the little prince at last. “It’s a little lonely in the desert…” “It is lonely when you’re among people, too,” said the snake.”

From Matilda

A quote for the dark times when we are tempted to take short-cuts in life
“If you are good life is good.” 

On the power of dreams, when all we can worry about is survival
“Matilda said, "Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it's unbelievable...