Letter to Madhav

Dear Madhav,

School is FUN for you! You do nothing but eat, sing, dance and play there, of course it has to be fun! You enjoy the holidays too. There’s nothing that pleases you more than wrestling with papa or teasing big sis on a lazy Sunday. But we’re glad we started school early when many asked us to wait a year more. Every morning you make sure Papa doesn’t leave for work without dropping you first. STOP! You tell him, complete with your palm in his face, if you spot him slinking through the door! Grandparents find it impossible to believe someone this tiny can be so excited about school. And it’s hard to keep up with how much you are learning there. I find you mumbling one song or the other, songs I never heard you sing before. You’re picking up a few languages too… Before going to school you hardly spoke in English or Hindi! But now you do, and Telugu too. Our helper was over the moon when you asked her what she was up to in her mother-tongue! And your teacher tells me you talk quite a bit! Oh, really? I know you’re a talker (way more than Medha!), but you hardly speak outside the comfort of home!

I’m always discovering something new about you guys every day!

King of our Jungle

My most favorite part of the day right now is picking you up at 11:30 AM and talking about all that you did at school. In the beginning you wouldn’t say anything, but now you’ve gotten so used to my probing that you just say whatever random thing comes to your mind! Like, there were days when you said “Gobhi”(Cauliflower) to my “What did you do today?”, everyday!” What else did you do?”. “More Gobhi”. “And then?” “Lots and lots of Gobhi!”. I wondered whether they made you cook for the staff!

And then came days when you said “I did ‘this'” or “I did ‘that'”, with my friend “Esha”. I was excited that you’d made a new friend. You told me she’s a good girl, but cries after her mommy leaves and some such stories about her. Wanting to know who your special friend is, I asked your teacher to tell me more. Guess what, she said there was  no one by that name! Either you must have gotten the name wrong or you must be cooking up a tale to keep me happy and my mouth shut! Ha! You know I don’t give up so easily! So….

Baby, What did you do today?

During Diwali, you, the BRAVE, MISCHIEVOUS Madhav, were too scared most of the time! Every Diya (Tea-light made of clay) lit and each cracker burst would send you whimpering to me, poor thing! I wanted to capture the festival of light in all its splendor and bustle, but how could I? I had to carry YOU all the time, not my camera! Thank God, it’s over! Until next year…

One more thing… It gives me the warmest of fuzzies when you tell me, “Medha is MINE (about your big sis)! You can have Papa if you want!”.

No matter how much you guys fight(And you fight like cat and dog!), you love your big sister the most and follow her around everywhere!

Love,

Mama.

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What’s the World coming to?!

How hard could writing a letter be? And that too to a toddler?! I started writing one to Madhav about, wait, 4 days ago, and haven’t finished it yet! Every time I jot a sentence down, it comes out clunky, shallow and I have to scratch it out. Something’s been bothering me lately, and I’m unable to figure out what it is. There’s so much going on around and within me, that I’m finding it difficult to function normally. As I write this, I hear my neighbors fighting; I listen to family members hurling abuses on one another, women screaming and men shouting. I go outside to check what’s happening. I decide to call the police when the sounds of a whip thrashing falls on my ears. But my family restrains me- The man next door is notorious and it’s a family matter and we better mind our own business, they tell me. Apparently, when something like this happened in the past and someone threatened to call the police, it didn’t work out as hoped. My legs still shaking with fear and anger, I return to my notepad.

Soon, the noises subside… I guess the knuckleheads realized their drama was being watched by the entire neighborhood!

Familial disputes aside, there’s worse happening around the world- people killing other people in the name of religion, kids shooting at other kids in schools, natural phenomenons like rainfalls exacerbated by excessive development, kidnappings, beheading…. Ugh!!!! Enough already! And just the other day I (and so were other parents) was shocked to hear about the death of a child on an elevator at a reputed school around here. I couldn’t stop thinking about her parents for a long time- the pain they must be suffering every single minute of their lives! I wish I could hug them, comfort them, wipe their tears away. I long to hold tight every bereaved mother there is and tell her, “I understand your pain. I know there can be no bliss, no joy after something like this. But please let me lighten your burden, your heavy heart for a while.”. I know this will not help. My husband thinks I’d be making things worse by sitting beside, crying. Hmmm… Maybe. But that’s exactly what I wish to do.

And when you read about such things everyday in the newspapers, whatsapp forwards and on TV, what’s a mom to do? Shut her family up and never let them out of sight? Mock me if you want to, but I’ve had such notions for sometime now- to gather my loved ones, lock them up in a big room and keep them safe. But would that be called living? And… and… GOD FORBID, what if that house comes crumbling down!?! There will be no end to worries if you pause to brood. So what can I do, what can WE ALL do, when life becomes more and more unpredictable? We could be over-cautious, avoiding public places, not taking risks, teaching kids to be distrustful of everything and everyone around, and staying safe all the time.

Or, we could live BIG, no matter how short or big our duration on earth is. We could love fiercely and give freely. We could teach our kids to be kind and compassionate, to go deep down (within themselves), to soar high. We could show them how to practice gratitude. We could teach our kids what “religion” truly means- a source of comfort in pain, a fount of joy and knowledge. We could teach them to have faith in themselves and on a higher power. We could teach them good from bad.

Mothers, in these hard times we have the toughest job there is- to show our children the path from darkness to light, from anger and hatred towards love- pure, forgiving, joyful LOVE. So pull yourselves up and get working…

Love,

Manasa.

A Honeymoon in Gran Canaria – Part 2

You can read Part 1 here.

After visiting the breath-taking Roque Nublo, we went to a town called Teror. Teror is a place of pilgrimage for Gran Canarians, because of the presence of a Cathedral dedicated to the Virgen del Pino (or Our Lady of the Pine), Patron Saint of Gran Canaria. We walked around the town enjoying the beautiful architecture of the Church and the homes nearby.

Teror

Mike was to go on a diving trip that day and he suggested I try the beginner’s level. I reluctantly agreed to join the ‘Discover Scuba Diving’ course. I’m not a big fan of water, you see (Have I mentioned that before?!? Maybe! Yet..) !

This course takes up a day; includes a theory on diving, where the instructor gives basic instructions; conducts a test-dive in a swimming pool; and concludes the course with a 30 minute dive in the Atlantic. Mike was in the `Advanced divers` group and he left with them to the sea. I stayed back with my instructor who taught me how to use hand sign to say ‘OK’ or ‘Not OK’; how to wear the diving suit, mask, regulators, and fins; and also how he would be assisting me in the water. We got into our diving suits and equipped ourselves with the regulators. Then we walked to the pool close to the diving base. Inside the pool, the instructor showed me how to remove water from the mask when inside the ocean, how to keep my posture right while diving and so on. After the test-dive, we took a break to pace ourselves for the big plunge and then drove to the Dive-site at the El Cabron beach.

Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side. As we got into the water, high waves rocked us to and fro, making it difficult to go deep down. We waited for them to pass and eased down slowly. Under-water visibility wasn’t good, but we did spot some beautiful fish.

Underwater

It’s hard to forget such a surreal experience, but to make it even more memorable, I was awarded a certificate from the diving company on completing the course. Thanks Mike for pushing me to try something that’s totally out of my comfort zone!

On the 6th day, we drove to the towns of Arinaga and Aguimes, located in the eastern part of Gran Canaria. There wasn’t much to see or do in those places, but I loved their vibes. The towns gave me a feeling of being in Arizona, one of my most favorite places in the whole world.

We had now seen almost everything (everything important, that is) in Gran Canaria. So we decided to visit 2 of the biggest malls there, El Mirador and Las Terrazas. We window-shopped a bit, checking out the Spanish brands and other well-known International ones. At the El Mirador mall, we were happy to spot a Dunkin Donut, the American Dough-nut Company, which is sadly not available in Switzerland. We enjoyed some delicious donuts and Coffee there.

On our way back, we stopped at a theme park called Sioux City, designed to look like the American Wild West. Being huge fans of the Western genre movies, especially the ones starring Clint Eastwood, Mike and I were too excited to spend time at the park! There were replicas of homes, forge, saloon, bars, church, barn and bank from that era. We watched the enactment of a bank robbery, replete with the usual cowboys, gunfights and so on. It was Super-Fun! (Entry ticket to the Park is about 20 Euros per person).

Sioux city

We shopped for souvenirs in Mogan and a huge shopping center in Playa del Ingles, called the Yumbo Center, before bidding the island a hearty Goodbye!

Inside Sioux City

So long, Gran Canaria!

Madhurya

A Honeymoon in Gran Canaria

For our honeymoon, Mike and I went on a week-long trip to Gran Canaria, one of Spain’s Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. We booked an early morning flight on a Saturday; Our sweet brother-in-law insisted upon dropping us off at the airport.

The 4 hour flight became even more exciting as I read this book!

After collecting our baggage, we went to the car-rental to pick our car-  A Volkswagen Beetle convertible!!! I was thrilled! It wasn’t too expensive, about 300 Euros for the whole week, including the insurance.

our car

The weather was good, around 25°C. It was a welcome relief from the cold weather in Switzerland. With the hood of the car down, we drove from the airport to our hotel in Playa del Inglés. Mike had booked a 5-star hotel, Bohemia Suites & Spa for our vacation and it was lovely! We were greeted with glasses of Prosecco (an Italian White Wine) from the staff as we waited for the receptionist to complete the formalities. The interior of the hotel was classy, with shades of pink and purple everywhere!

Hotel Lounge

We’d arrived earlier than the estimated time, and our room was not ready yet. So we decided to explore the city.The Playa del Inglés beach is close to the hotel. We took a stroll along the beach, enjoying the stunning views of the dunes and the sea. It was quite warm by now and we were very hungry. We tried Spanish omelets at a restaurant along the coast which tasted nice and different.

Back at the hotel, we were taken to our room. It had a modern decor with all the amenities and a view of the beach to boot! In the evening we drove to a town located in the south-west region of Gran Canaria called Puerto Rico, which has a beach with a ton of hotels and apartments on surrounding cliffs.

Puerto Rico beach

After Puerto Rico, we drove to Maspalomas, a small town south of the island. It felt like I was in Florida or Dubai. Apart from the usual hotels and branded stores, there’s a 56 meters high lighthouse, named El Faro de Maspalomas at the end point. We ended our first day watching the sunset at Maspalomas.

Our stay included complementary breakfast at Restaurant 360°. It is located at the rooftop of the hotel and offers beautiful views of the sea. I looked forward to dining there every morning.

When in Spain, one must never forget to try the Café con leche, a really hot, strong and delicious Coffee! We loved it and so would you, I’m sure!

Weather forecast suggested that there was going to be a storm in the northern part, so we decided to stay south. We visited another town in the south-western part of Gran Canaria called Mogán. Mogan has a beautiful beach and a huge harbor which is a major stop for yachts travelling from the Atlantic to the Caribbean. The canals and bridges of its seawater inlet have earned it the nickname “Little Venice.” Along the marina, you’ll find an assortment of restaurants and bars, and pretty Mediterranean homes and cottages.

Mogan

From Mogan, we drove towards La Aldea de San Nicolas , with old houses made of stone and mud from the 17th and 18th centuries. We passed beautiful landscapes as we drove: Mountains covered with plants like Aloe Vera, Cacti of various sizes and types, and vast blue sea.

After lunch at an authentic Spanish Restaurant, we went to Cactualdea Park. As the name suggests, this park displays a wide variety of cacti; More than 1200 species can be found here. Some have been brought from places like Madagascar, Bolivia, Mexico, and Guatemala. The park is huge; It reminded me of Arizona, especially, Tuscon where my sister and her family lived before moving back to India. (An entry into the Cactualdea Park costs 6 Euros per person)

Cactualdea park

On day 3, we visited the Palmitos Park, another botanical garden located in Maspalomas. This one has a wide range of exotic birds, especially parrots brought from Central and Latin America, monkeys, crocodiles, a Komodo dragon brought in from Brazil and more. Folks here conduct a parrot show, exotic bird show, and the park`s highlight – the Dolphin show. I highly recommend visiting this park if you are in Gran Canaria. (Entry costs 30 Euros per person).

Palmitos park

Weather promised to be nice and sunny on our 4th day and so we decided to explore the northern part of the island. Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria, has an impressive infrastructure of hotels and apartments and its Port receives ships from all over the world. We walked around Triana, one of the oldest districts in Las Palmas and, now, its commercial center. It was just like any other bustling city and we weren’t too impressed with it!

Las palmas

The next day we went to see the Roque Nublo (Cloudy rock), located in the central part of the island in Tejeda. It dates back to the period between 5.3 and 5.4 million years ago, when a gigantic volcano erupted through the epicenter of the island forming this famous landmark.

It is about 67 meter high and is located on an elevated platform. A 1.5 km trek takes the visitor from the parking area to the rock. We tried our best to cover the rocky, semi-challenging ascent, but when I couldn’t push myself any further, we had to return. I wasn’t too disappointed; I still got to view and enjoy the “Pillar of Heaven” (as it was called by the indigenous people of the Island). Moreover, I experienced a different kind of adventure the next day that made me feel so proud of myself! Read about it in my next post….

Roque nublo

 Cheers,

Madhurya.

A (short) trip to Kanha National Park

Let me tell you about our trip to Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh: A trip that was to last 7 days, strengthen budding friendship between cousins, create joyful memories and to include a rendezvous with the Tigers at Tadoba National Park, but didn’t exactly pan out as we hoped it would…

Don’t worry, I promise this won’t be a sad read!

One crisp October morning, we left home at 5 AM along with Prasad’s cousin and his family. The kids (now 4 of them) were too excited to go back to sleep. They played, watched movies and laughed a lot! Since we’d packed all our food for the journey, we stopped only to eat them and to refresh ourselves. Prasad and his cousin, B, took turns and drove, paying tolls as we went along. Some parts of the highway were well-maintained (in Telangana) while the others (in Maharashtra) weren’t. We’d planned to break our journey at Nagpur or some other place, but since we’d covered most of our journey by noon, we decided to go ahead and complete it the same day. When we called up Club Mahindra, the resort we were going to stay at, they told us they could give us our suite a day early!

The drive was scenic: huge Teak and Sal trees punctuated beautiful grasslands and snowy Cranes swarmed a lake. We let the kids splash around for a while in one of them..

On our Way

We reached the resort at 5 PM (About 12 hours later!). The staff made us feel welcomed. In fact they were gracious through our stay. Our suite had a bedroom, kitchen, balcony, dining table and sofa that could double up as a bed. There were a couple of TVs too, something I am not too fond of, especially on a visit to a National Park! But everything was impeccable and pretty! We ordered snacks for the kids- Pizza Margherita, fries and Paneer Pakoras. They were super-yummy but super-expensive too!

Since we were there during the festive season, there was loud music everywhere, in and around the resort. Many gathered around a stage to dance to peppy Bollywood tunes at night; We did too for a while. Then we retreated to an Indoor play area where we took turns playing Carrom, Table Tennis, Foosball and Hula Hoop. The Girl in charge of that area had fun chatting with Medha, asking her questions like, “Where did you come from?” and hearing responses like, “India”!

We were having a good time, but there was an undertone of tension throughout our trip. B’s dad was sick and with ticking time, the information we heard from the folks at home kept oscillating between “getting better” to “turning bad”! With it, our emotions too swayed from relief to nervousness.

We were bracing ourselves for the worst!

Morning came and we went exploring the resort and around. It was lovely but noisy. Blaring music invoking Goddess Durga was playing right outside the resort and it was driving me insane! I was pretty sure the Goddess herself would materialize any minute and ask them to shut the hell up!!!

She didn’t…. And since I didn’t have the costume or the courage to appear in front of a bunch of villagers as Mother Durga, I sucked it up and tried to focus on the bright side (Like Prasad was asking me to!).

I watched the Sun rise and the birds frolic on the lawns, exactly the thing I came here to watch and enjoy. Then I sat in the lobby to read some and write some more.

We let the kids hang out at the pool and the outdoor play area to tire them out and to work up their appetites.

Dad and the kids having a good time

Then we had a heavy breakfast at the buffet. Food was good, not great considering the exorbitant price we had to pay. (Around 800+taxes) per meal per person! But there was a ton of options to choose from.

You may wonder why we chose Club Mahindra, of all the other resorts available. That’s because B and his family are its members and our room rent was included in the membership package. That’s it. Plus, we were told that the kids would have a lot of stuff to keep them engaged. And they did.

Our Tiger Safari was booked for 3:30 PM. There wasn’t much to do in the vicinity until then, so we went to check out Kamlesh Dhaba, highly recommended by the kind gatekeeper of the Park. I’m nervous about dining  at roadside eateries for hygienic reasons, but I liked this one because it looked clean. The food tasted awesome too and was dirt-cheap compared to what we were paying at the resort!

The jeeps had assembled by the gate. We got into ours after showing our IDs and paying Rs. 2000 (Around 30 USD) at the counter. This was apart from the Rs. 1750 we’d already paid online to book a jeep for us. The Park is closed to all vehicles except the Government-approved Safari and staff vehicles.

I can still feel the thrill of the gate opening and letting our jeep inside. It felt as if we were entering the Jurassic Park. We were asked to be really quiet and not to trash the place.

Entering Kanha

The park invoked memories of our Yellowstone Trip. Kanha looked no less compared to its counterpart in the US in beauty or immensity. Dense vegetation interspersed with rolling meadows, shimmering lakes teeming with wildlife all left us insane with pleasure and gratitude. We spotted Deer, Sambar, Barasingha (a rare type of Deer), Peacocks and more. In their midst I truly felt blessed. I love LOVE my country and felt so glad that there were people out there who were taking really good care of it!

Feeling blessed in Kanha

In the meanwhile, we were trying to catch a glimpse of a Tiger. He was one of the biggest reasons why we’d traveled all the way from the South to Central India. Our guide informed us that it was not in his nature to seek out human beings and attack them. In fact he feared us as much (or maybe more) as we feared the beast! Anyways, we were hungry to sight him. I reminded myself to savor every passing minute in that holy place, where folks mentioned in our legends had apparently tromped about.

Play of light

And all of a sudden whose eyes our driver spots behind a bush?! No,not the Tiger’s, but a Leopard’s! A female, a mother, with her 3 babies in tow.

Can you spot the Leopard?

She came out, sat a few feet behind our jeep, looked at us and meowed to her cubs, who were still hiding behind the bush. When she took a few regal steps back, we moved too, slowly, our voices hushed, but the cameras clicking away. She made eye contact with us as if to make sure we meant no harm and called to her babies again. We waited with bated breaths to see them.

After a long time, she LEAPED into the air and took off, the cubs whizzing behind her in a muddy-brown blur! We were left with our jaws wide open, a ton of good clicks and our hearts bursting with pride and disbelief at having spotted a Leopard! Apparently, it is an elusive animal and we were able to spot one only because it had been a mother, who was ensuring her kids’ safety! Had it been a male, he would’ve sprung out of our sight in a blink!

Our elusive friend

Everyone treated us as if we’d seen the Goddess herself! No other visitors had spotted a Tiger that day, let alone a Leopard whose sighting is, according to our guides, comparable to spotting 10 Tigers! I think God treated us to such a spectacle for a reason. He knew we’d be going back home, broken-hearted that very evening….

As we walked around the museum, within the park premises and open only in the evenings, we received the dreaded call. Uncle’s condition was deteriorating and it was better for B to return. He asked us to go on without him, but how could we? We’d come together and now there was no way we we were gonna abandon them in their hour of need! We cleared our bills, packed our bags and made our way home.

Hmmm….

The kids had been real gems through the ordeal, which gives us the confidence to visit Kanha (and other National Parks) again. We’d only covered a minuscule portion of the park and there was much to see and do; And what about our meeting with the Tiger?! Heck we WILL go again!!!

Love,

Manasa.

On Motherhood

I want to build a camera”, Medha kept pestering me, as I sat, too tired to move an inch.

“Go ask papa to make one for you”, I said.

“Papa? He doesn’t know how to make one!”

“Sure he does! He’s an Engineer you see and Engineers Build.”

Listening to our conversation on Skype, my mom asked Medha, “Medha, what’s your dad?”

“An Engineer! And he builds stuff!”. She looked proud.

“And your mom?”

Without missing a beat, she replied, “A Cook.”

Mom fainted! “Your mom’s an Engineer too you know”, she tried to enlighten her, but Medha wasn’t convinced. I was stunned! I’d never heard that one being said of my “profession”! But somehow it didn’t hurt me as much as it would’ve if she had something like this a couple of years ago. When I probed myself further for the reason why, I realized something-  at this stage in life, I’m truly enjoying this Mothering gig. Yup! That’s it!

I’m a cook, for sure. But I’m much more than that…

I enjoy the early mornings when the kids haven’t woken up yet and I’ve no nagging tasks to pull me away from my books. I sit with a cup of ginger tea and relish every spicy sip as I plough deep into my current read. And the music playing in the nearby temple, the maid sweeping our front yard with the swishing sound of the broom and the birds chirruping away, all lend a soothing background score to my delightful pursuit.

I enjoy the freedom that comes with not having to work according to someone else’s tunes. Who am I kidding! Sometimes, I do dance to my kids’ tunes (I have no choice, do I?!), but you get it, right?!?! I set my own rules, schedule, goals and work away. And not only do I set mine, but I also draw a list of things to do for my kids- like the project that needs to get done, the homework that needs to be finished and the lessons that have to be learnt.”So jobless!” or  “That’s psychotic!”  you may wonder, but I know I’m just a piece of rag if I’m not disciplined. And I wish to inculcate this habit early in my children. Whoever says “discipline” is equivalent to “punishment” needs to have a nice long chat with me. It isn’t!

I love that I can read to Medha whenever she feels the urge to be read. And I’m over the moon that we’re finally over the board and picture books (not completely, since Madhav is still around there) phase and have taken to reading the “Thea Stilton” series, books that are geared for 7 to 10 year olds! It’s about all the adventures a bunch of mouselets have. Medha loves them and so do I!

I love being able to shop for fresh vegetables at local markets; browse my favorite cooking websites for new, healthy and exotic recipes and cook for my family. At times it does feel like drudgery but almost always I end up feeling happy and proud, especially when everyone asks for seconds!

I LOVE going in-depth into the concepts the kids and I learn by experimenting, like the other day, before Medha’s story-telling at school, where she had to memorize the lines of the story “The Donkey and the load of salt”,  I decided to teach her the concept of dissolution of salt and absorption by cotton in water through an experiment to help her understand the story better. Even Madhav had fun dipping packs of salt and cotton into a bowl of water to check which one lost or gained weight.

I may decide to work (outside) later, who knows, but right now I’m enjoying this. And I wouldn’t want to miss a thing, hmmm, sleepless nights, cleaning poop or puke, and sickness, maybe, but nothing else. This package is just too good! Of course there are and will be days when I just don’t feel like getting up, when nothing feels right, when I ask myself the dreaded question “Oh what’s the point?”; Who doesn’t have them! But there’s nothing that cannot be cured by being outdoors or sharing with loved ones.

In my opinion, it isn’t good or bad to be a stay-at-home or a career mom. To each her own. I’m always curious to know how the other moms manage their homes, kids and often, jobs too. And they are happy to find a good listener in me. In all my listening (and reading and watching and learning), this is what I’ve understood- Pay attention to what your heart and mind truly want. And then decide what’s best for you and your family.

Ultimately, You should not regret the choices you make.

I’d regret not having spent enough time with the kids.

I’d regret not having taught them their school stuff and life stuff.

I’m happy (mostly) with my choice.

I may not have much but I have ENOUGH.

Love,

Manasa.