Saturday, 20 April 2019

In Celebration of Seasonal Changes


Raindrops on roses and bright sunshine in your backyards are no more your favourite things once you become a parent. While young lovers may be happy with the spring in the air all a parent can associate it with is your young one’s watery eyes, rashes, wheezing and mosquito-infested diseases that come with springtime allergies. Most kids get excited about the warm temperatures and sunshine that come after long, cold winters and fall prey to the seasonal allergies. Unfortunately, parents can’t do much about plants and trees releasing pollen into the air. While this natural flowering process gives rise to all the beautiful vegetation that makes spring such a wonderful time, it can also be quite miserable for kids with allergies. Understanding the difficulties of seasonal changes can help parents devise strategies to make every seasonal change a moment for celebration.

Understand the symptoms

The best thing parents can do during allergy season is look for the allergy symptoms, which can change from year to year, and do their best to minimize their effects.
Be on the lookout for sneezing, clear nasal drainage, fatigue, an itchy nose or mouth, and watering, red or itchy eyes. These are the telltale signs of any seasonal allergies. Some children may have more subtle symptoms, such as snoring at night or a more nasal-sounding voice.

Here are some general tips to fight the seasonal allergies:

Pollens are most prevalent early in the morning between 5-10 a.m. Minimize your child’s outdoor activities during this time.

Encourage children to wash feet, hands and face whenever they come home from school/play.

Assist them to change clothes after playing or working outside too.

Children can take a shower/ clean-up before bed to help prevent pollen from interfering with sleep.

Be sure to start some home remedies/medications as prescribed in case of regular allergies.

Celebrate the Seasonal Changes

Once you learn to keep your children away from these allergies, seasonal changes can actually be an enjoyable process every year. Nature has its way of nudging us to notice the seasonal changes in the world around us on a regular basis. Whether it is the presence or absence of certain birds, the smell of a jasmine in early spring or the blissful sound of the first cuckoo/koel; all of these send us the message that those long, lazy days of summer are not far away.

The changing environment offers an incredible opportunity for improving the scientific spirit of  inquiry in children. So, why limit that inquiry to one chapter/subject at school when, in fact, the opportunity to learn about, notice, anticipate, observe and record change can be made available to them every single day?  Inquiring into the environment is SO much better as an ongoing experience. On a regular basis, take your kids OUTSIDE to observe and record what they see, hear and smell. Take time to record, to photograph, to draw – and simply to BE in the outdoors.

Here are some activities which can help you celebrate the seasonal changes:

Artwork with Natural things: Nature can be a great source of art materials. Find a large stick on your way and turn it into a walking stick for your next hike. Decorate it with any arts and crafts supplies you may have. You can also try using pebbles, stones, dry colorful leaves and other elements of nature.

Bird Watching: Assist children to find out the birds – what species are found in your neighbourhood? Does it change over the year? Which birds look like they are native? What are their habits? Where do they prefer to hang out? Why?

Play Online Games: Interactive online games can prompt awareness of the changing seasons while also providing the opportunity to practice math and literacy skills. See if your kids like online activities, including games that use animated characters to highlight the qualities of a season.

Reading Books: Choosing books that highlight different aspects of the current season is a way to learn and celebrate the season, while also reinforcing the importance of reading. Talk to your kids about the similarities they noticed between the books they read and their neighbourhood as the days pass over the year.

Record through Selfies Corners: Encourage your kids to get to know nature in their neighbourhood. Have them track the way that places change over a year through their selfies, photographs pasted in diaries or journals.

Trip to Forests and Parks: Take advantage of the relatively mild weather by enjoying the great outdoors at a local park or forest preserve. Exploring Sacred Forests and National Parks can enrich children’s understanding of nature, while reinforcing a healthy and active lifestyle. Walk around a park, or your neighborhood, with your kids to foster an awareness of the changing colors.

The subtle, cyclical pattern of seasonal change is endlessly intriguing and strangely comforting. 

Help them to marvel aloud about Mother Nature and her wonders.

Friday, 19 April 2019

MOVIE MAKERS: THE NEW POLITICAL SOLDIERS OF INDIA

REVIEWING KALANK FOR RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL MOTIVES



The campaigning, canvassing and opinion polls following the General Elections 2019 have been unprecedented for political and social observers in India and abroad in many ways. And by that I do not mean the chowkidar fan followings or last minute coalitions. I would like to draw the attention of uninitiated art lovers to how the art of movie-making has been turned into a politically vulnerable target. 

I will illustrate my point through pondering over “the greatest personal contribution of an acclaimed director to the Indian film industry”, his two daughters Pooja Bhatt and Alia Bhatt and their works. I take back the readers to one of his movies starring Pooja Bhatt: Zakhm. The movie revolves around a Muslim girl falling in love and having an extra marital affair with a Hindu Music Director in the backdrop of religious riots. After completion when the movie went for getting a nod from the Censor Board, the director was told to replace the saffron flags with black colour, if it was to be released. Of course, with great difficulty the director made the changes and then the movie went on to win a National Award.

I was reminded of this incident when I recently saw the performance of Pooja Bhatt’s younger sibling Alia in the Karan Johar produced multi-starrer KALANK. The movie remains to be “bland” recreation of personal struggles of some individuals in the Pre-Partition era. But what attracted my attention was the subtle use of religious symbols to yield political religious gains! Let us look at some religious aspects of the cast: A Hindu family head with a daughter-in-law falling in love with his own Muslim Bastard from the most popular Muslim Nautch-girl turned Music teacher.

The Bastard being killed by his own Muslim friends while saving his own Hindu step-brother and his wife, with whom he is in love. Again here in Husnabad, supposedly a Muslim dominated city close to Lahore, the antagonists use RED or seemingly Orange flags while protesting against the preachers of One Nation theory! What is more surprising is in times of difficulty, the Hindu patriarch “runs away” from the burning town to Amritsar while the Muslim Nautch girl wants to remain back in her “KOTHA” to save a dozen of her Hindu disciples but refuses to keep two Hindu protagonists saying their presence will be quickly found out in a Muslim dominated area! And at the end of the narrative, the daughter-in-law asking the viewers to judge themselves whether her infidelity remains to be a “KALANK” or “ETERNAL LOVE”!

Attempts to regulate what the public sees are frequently inspired by religious beliefs. And that’s why we have always seen in Karan Johar movies such as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam, there is a Hindu protagonist family making friends with the Muslim peers such as Rifat bi and Abdul Mias. Time and again we were made to believe that not all was wrong between Hindus and Muslims. But, many reviewers are calling Kalank one an utter waste of an extraordinary cast, crew and budget! So is Karan Johar such a fool to waste his money over a mediocre narrative or is there a dearth of original movie-tellers or is it something else?

In the opportune times of General Elections, nothing is a waste. Controlling the use of religious symbols forms a rather small proportion of the material gains that religious groups seek to regulate. Religion, after all, is not just about a particular story of creators and messiahs; it is also about regulating how life is lived. So, in today’s times when movies such as Bajrangi Bhaijaan, RAW or the biopic on Prime Minister Modi are trying to change the complete narrative of religious believes in the country, how could Karan Johar leave his forte of Indian Secularism!

But why blame Karan Johar alone, there have always been attempts to exploit the religious images in Indian mainstream cinema in the past too. Symbols can be potent political soldiers that can mobilize constituencies and inspire them to go to battle for what are always, ultimately, political goals: the pursuit of social and cultural hegemony.  Those savvy enough to exploit this can mobilize their constituencies by interpreting the image as a deliberate attack on their values and beliefs. Remember the most popular Bollywood bonanza Sholay where again we have the blind Muslim old man’s death being revenged by the Hindu Angry young men played by Amitabh bachan and Dharmender.

An image is unlike a verbal statement because its meaning is open for multiple interpretations. And those who deal in religious symbols know that better than anyone. Similar is the role of Pran in another Amitabh Bachan starrer Zanzeer where the directors tried to establish and celebrate the then Indian government’s idea of secularism.The tactics may vary with local conditions, the strategy remains the same: attribute a simple and maximally offensive intention (such as in case of Kalank using the Pre-Partition backdrop) to an image, a film, play or artwork and use it to trigger long standing grievances (the Partition woes of Indian Diaspora), while also mobilizing and radicalizing your constituency by creating the impression that they are engaged in a war (here, the personal revenge) and that their most cherished values (of loving and losing their dear ones) are under attack.

Political power battles find both expression and additional fuel in attacks on symbolic objects. It is again the fallacy of creative cultural wars that comes to foreplay in Kalank when I feel the director fails to impress us because of the tussle between which religious beliefs to please keeping in mind the present political environment in the country. That’s why in case of Kalank, director keeps the fair sex in the audience mesmerized with the dances, costumes and musical/ other visual treats; while he succeeds in mobilizing the anger of his religiously and politically inclined fund-raisers. 

We find many examples in History when images were destroyed on a massive scale in an effort to eradicate the dangerous symbolism they contain. Such destructions have invariably been accompanied by shifts in political and religious power. Before the Taliban blew up the images of the Buddha in Bamiyan Valley in 2001, we have our own examples from the times of Emergency in India when all critical art works such as films, books were totally destroyed by the Indira Gandhi led Congress Government.

That’s how many of us are not even aware that Shabana Azmi played a lead role in the most controversial ‘Kissa Kursi Ka” and Kishore Kumar’s songs could not be heard on AIR for a long time. Moving back to the present, in Kalank we find the climax revolving around the jam-packed train leaving for Amritsar from Lahore. The director again subtly tries to overrule the massacres that took place in the Pre-Partition times by showing a complete mob of 100 armed Muslims trying to kill none other than just one family! They spare the other travellers and focus only on these three protagonists, which is really unbelievable!

Since the late 1980s, rhetoric of offense focusing on the use of religious symbols has been used to mobilize religious constituencies. In today’s world, Indian media seems to be responding – or perhaps over-reacting – to a radically new world situation, where communications are instantaneous, but where cultural and political differences are still enormous. People have started acknowledging their political or religious point of views as extreme as Right or Left rather than hiding them under the symbolism of the umbrella term of Secularism. But Karan Johar can’t still decide and I think it is this indecisiveness that leads to mixed symbolism and the lack of any chemistry between the Balrajs/Devs/ Zaffarbhai and the Satyas/Roops of Kalank.

But no worries as we all know that this is not the last time that we play this interesting and multi-layered Game of Thrones in India! or as they say in India: Kissa Kursi Ka!

 Baki Sab First Class Hai!

Saturday, 13 April 2019

The Dance of Democracy for Kids


The voting for Loksabha Elections has started in full swing in India. While many of the voters coming out to decide the fate of candidates in their constituencies, it is difficult to keep the children away from this dance of democracy. I read in some of the newspapers about the children making up their own manifestoes and presenting them to the major regional/national parties predominantly working in their localities. The manifesto contained all the areas where they wanted their representatives to improve, such as health and hygiene, electricity and transport facilities and so on.

Many parents find this dance of democracy nothing more than a sophisticated blood bath. They feel it is of no good to let children listen to candidates promoting hatred, ridicule and sheer sycophancy on air. Also, there is no point letting children understand the nuances of political affairs. Even children find it very difficult to maintain interests in the process of democratic governance.

So how do parents draw the attention of children towards these elections?

 Is it important at all?

Why talk about elections to kids?

Our children are the future of this country. We want them to develop these positive values so they can help build a better country and world. Therefore, it is our responsibility to be their positive role models. We can be so only when we create the right kind of awareness amongst them about some basic concepts of social living such as being a nation, following the duties of a responsible citizen and helping the government in our nation’s development.

What to talk about?

Children tend to do what they see, not what they are told. Hence it is better to explain them about elections by taking them to a campaign rally, a polling booth and or to see any party’s office nearby. As a young girl, my father used to take us to the party office of one of his friend’s party. There we would find some people engaged in finalizing voters lists of their locality. At other times, we found some of our friends going door-to-door to convince people to come out and vote in large numbers. Such people would condemn the work down by that party’s members or sometimes they would be very happy and greet us with sweets and good words. In both the cases it was a good learning about overcoming your fears and trying to convince people.

 But the best would always be attending mass rallies of prominent national leaders such as Sharad Pawar, L K Advani, Rajiv Gandhi or Atal Behari Vajpayee. The fun part was shouting loud slogans such as “_______tum age badho, hum tumhare sath hai”, “jab tak suraj chand rahega,______ tera naam rahega” “India Shining” and so on. The whole atmosphere of the large grounds covered with people would be mesmerizing.

How to talk about elections with kids?

But, these days, the major repellants are the brawls which take place in the name of fair debates on various news channels. With the bullying, mudslinging and often abusive behavior that is going on, most of the political leaders are displaying what I consider to be the lowest common denominator of interpersonal relationships. The minute we switch to The Big Fights, my daughter switches off her mind. This is where we parents need to be much more vigilant. I strongly believe that we should watch the shows their children like to make sure they imbibe positive values and know exactly what children should not follow in their democratic lives.

Parents should discuss the interactions between characters on television, even in cartoons, and point out behaviors they believe are negative. Some parents make sure to sit next to their child so they know exactly what he or she is hearing. Then they have family discussions and point out any mistakes in behavior or approaches that they feel are being made. It is crucial to explain your values to children.
This is a better way to start helping your children to find meanings in democracy. This may also be a way to help them shape their political identity. The best way to do this is to remove the stigma or the shame that is attached with being a political person. This can be done well by converting the process of elections into something very routine like a homework assignment. 

I plan to spend the big day of result counting as another calculation exercise for my daughter. We have a board painted with the symbols of various parties which she likes such as the elephant, the bicycle, and the broom and so on, on one side and the number of seats they will win on the other side. So she keeps a check from whatever happens in the news channel and keeps adding on the numbers to decide who the winner is finally.

So, come this summer let the dance of democracy and positive parenting go hand in hand.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Monster Mommies


We take for granted now that parents should hug their children, that relationships are worth the time, that taking care of each other is part of the good life.

Love is central to our experience of being human. And once we replace the word “human” with “MOTHER” it is felt that the feelings of love and compassion come naturally to all mothers. The world feels that once a woman becomes a mother all that she is supposed to do is keep giving; even if she is dead tired of all the work, she needs to still keep giving her babies all that they need. However, there have been examples where the mothers have chosen other things than their babies at times. And the babies too have grown up to become normal adults. For ages, nobody could understand and define this parental affection well. 

What is so special about parental affection that shapes the destiny of a child?

The Experiment

Decades ago a team of psychologists led by Harry Harlow tried to prove the importance of parental affection in a child’s life. They conducted some experiments on baby monkeys who were provided with different kinds of “cloth/wire moms” who would cuddle, feed or punch them in their faces. Some of these moms, they named as monster moms who would be cold towards the monkey’s emotional needs but would feed them still. 

The RESULTS

What Harlow found was both heart breaking and heart breakingly understandable — rather than fleeing from the monstrous mothers, the babies tried harder to earn their affection. The monkeys returned to the monsters, in spite of violent repulsions only to cling more tightly and coo more beseechingly, “expressing faith and love as if all were forgiven,” as Harlow put it.

Real Life Similarities

Harry and his team would find the same pattern when real mother monkeys were rejecting or abusive. The scientists marveled at “the desperate efforts the babies made to contact their mothers. No matter how abusive the mothers were, the babies persisted in returning.” They returned more often, they reached and clung and coaxed far more frequently than the children of normal mothers. The infants were so preoccupied with engaging their mothers that they had little energy for friends. The clinging babies’ energy was directed into their attempts to coax a little affection out at home. Sometimes the real monkey mothers did respond, gradually, more kindly. But while trying to reach mother, the little monkeys never had time to reach anyone else.

The Solution

By the time I started writing this blog, I could not really get into thinking about what could be the reasons for turning normal human beings into monsters when it came to being a mother. But I definitely thought about how we could avoid it. Although we all know, it is not right to overload just one parent with all the responsibilities of positive parenting, is there anything we can do to avoid being Monster Mommies?

Let’s take a look at what the experts suggest:

 There’s nothing sentimental about love, it’s a substantial, earthbound connection, grounded in effort, kindness, and decency.

As a mother or as a parent what we must understand is that the feeling of LOVE needs to start at home. Whatever the child feels at home, s/he imbibes it for the rest of their life. So, if as a mother you feel the need to be heard, understood and loved; expect the child to need the same. Many times, mothers feel restricted in their homes due to their children while the whole world around them seems to be out in the sun for fun. At such times, one needs to tell the same to the child in decent words so that as the child grows s/he appreciates your point of view without any grudges.  This is also how the child will learn the art of honest human connection. 

It is the modest, steady responses that see us through day after day, that stretch in to a life of close and loving relationships.

According to the English psychologist John Bowlby, the fulfillment of physical needs like sustenance and shelter is a secondary drive in the parent-child relationship — love is the primary one. It’s not just a matter of the warm body holding the bottle; it’s not object love at all. We love specific people and we need them to love us back. And in the case of the child’s tie to the mother, it matters that the mother loves the baby and that the baby knows it. It matters to the baby to know who loves it and whom it loves in return. 

When you are a very small child, love needs to be as tangible as warm arms around you and as audible as the lull of a gentle voice at night.

All of us, even as babies, are a bundle of feelings and desires, he said. Our positive emotions grow best in an interactive sense, fostered by how we react to others and how they respond to us. A baby, a child, even an adult, needs at least one person interested and responsive. We grow best in a family with an environment cultivated by someone who thinks we matter.