Wednesday 23 December 2020

Bringing up Kids


I remember it was an effort to get my elder kid to eat anything. As far as the junk food was concerned, he being the first born was kept in dark about its existence. No cookies, chocolates, cola or ice-cream for him. Still one could not dissuade some over indulgent well-wishers from bringing in toffees or chocolates and therefore I found a novel way out of i.e. told him that these fancy looking things are supposed to be aimed at the dustbin:-) and so it was. Till he went to a Birthday party one day, of course unaccompanied by me and came back an enlightened soul. He tells me-' you know Mom, you can use these things in another way- just unwrap them and put them in your mouth. You should try one -they taste sweet! I tried novel ways of getting him to open his mouth when I wasn't force-feeding him. Like tickling or narrating stories. Popeye was a big help in getting him to eat his greens. The first time I saw my elder one standing with the Refrigerator open, arms askew on his waist, I asked him what the matter was. ‘I am thinking what to eat', he said. I wanted to cry with relief! I knew my days of fretting and toiling over food were over.

Alas, little did I know. The two of them grew up to be teenagers and were always hungry and had discovered all types of food. I had to hide laddoos and mathris and namkeens and gajar ka halwa lest my labour of love of three hours ends in their tummies in 30 minutes. By the time I was winding up the lunch, it was time for snacks. ‘Do we have anything to eat?'

Believe me food wasn’t the only hurdle I crossed while bringing up the kids. There was the constant noise of squabbling between the two of them, which I gradually learnt to welcome. The kids are like mosquitoes- constantly buzzing. You should start worrying when they are quiet. The noise would lull me into peace and which was only broken when everything went quiet. Then there would be war cries in the bathroom and then a thud and somebody begging for mercy and the moment I banged on the door, it was, ‘Go away, we are okay’. A long drive with two of them in the back seats was a test of patience. The verbal tussle ultimately developed into a brawl and on retrospection nobody remembered what started it all. And to think that the books had advised me that an age gap of less than 18 months or more than 3 years reduced sibling rivalry!

Bringing up kids was a daunting task for many of my generation. We have been what I call ‘the sandwich generation’. The development from landline to cell phones and Doordarshen to Netflix happened at such a breath-taking pace that it was like we skipped three generations at the blink of an eye. We grew up shadowed by our parents and are archaic for our kids. We had to evolve at the speed of light to keep pace with the knowledge explosion. We had 19th century upbringing, the skills of 20th century and were getting the kids ready for the 21st century. And I was always assailed with qualms if what I was doing was right for them. The concept of ‘parenting’ was still in its nascent stage. Most of the times, when I was in doubt, I would visualise what my parents/ teachers would have done in a similar situation and I would go ahead and do just the opposite. Of only one thing I was certain that I was not bringing up obedient and docile kids.

I would have wanted to leave this place better than what I found it to be but sadly as a generation, we have not been very responsible people. We are leaving behind a legacy of polluted air and rivers, dwindling resources, polarised society and shrinking flora and fauna. While the world is coming closer, narrow vested interests are taking over. It is as if the wheel is coming back full circle. The ‘perestroika’ and liberalisation of the eighties has been reversed.

I wonder what the world would be like once I am long gone and what I would be remembered for most. The world and life are uncertain. My kids may not become the doctors or engineers but they certainly would be good human beings- compassionate and upright. I have imbibed in them the moral courage to question injustice and a solid ground of values which will keep them in a strong stead. Both of them will have their own ways of doing it. While the younger one will be dealing it with his subtle charming ways, the elder one would be highly vocal and would debate and shout at the rooftop. And I will stand behind them- supporting their each endeavour.


Friday 18 October 2019


Newton’s laws of Motion,

Have created a commotion

Apples were falling since ages indeed

And nobody paid any heed

But Newton had the temerity

To call it gravity

His thinking out of box

Has left us poor souls foxed

The first law tells about

And without a doubt

That objects in motion

Remain in motion

Till a force is applied

But I have often spied

That if a rolling ball is not pushed,

Its motion is ambushed

It comes to stop ultimately

And the teacher has informed me lately

That it is the friction

Which stops the motion

Inertia- the property is coined

And a number of my classmates have joined

In supporting my surmise

That Newton’s novel enterprise

Has caused many a heart burns

We are taking turns

In explaining why

When an athlete jumps high

He has to take a run abound

Before his feet leave the ground

Newton’s Second Law states
a bigger Force accelerates
an object of heavier mass
So Newton observed they obey
Force is equal to m times a.

Newton’s Third Law of Motion

Strengthens the supposition

That every action

Will have an equal and opposite reaction

It is philosophical

And most logical

Because when I hit my friend

He got angry to no end

And hit me back

I was taken aback

But we must accept it with grace

Without his laws in place

All of us would have been ignoramus

Clueless in the Universe











Thursday 22 December 2016


I am a voracious reader and growing up, books were the only friends I had. Unfortunately books can 'talk' but you cannot make a conversation with them. The result was, I grew up lacking in communication skills. I averaged five sentences a day and smiling gave me cheek muscle cramps. These qualities were detrimental to my chosen career of teaching. Not that I did not peruse journals and articles on teenage Psychology, but the expertise on 'How to talk so that the kids listen' can be tough sometimes. Nevertheless I have mastered the art of reasoning out with the kids and believe me nothing scares them more than when I offer them a chair to logically explain the disadvantages of their attempted misdemeanor in not less than hundred words .

An advantage that the boarding school offers is that you are with the students 24x7 and you get to know them for better or for worse. Scrape that supposedly tough/cool exterior and you find impressionable kids trying to hide their vulnerability under the guise of fake bravado and devil may care attitude. I am learning to let go and look at the world from their perspective and find humour in the kids’ behavior.

There can sometimes be communication misunderstandings and paradoxes. If I were to put it differently this phenomenon could be put bracketed under the category called 'transmission and distribution losses'’ that occur from the moment a word is uttered to when it is understood. Interestingly I discovered that more often than not the consequences of this miscommunication were very student friendly.

For example if you want to conduct an experiment in the Physics lab and you instruct the students to report to the lab these are the possibilities on how the message can be interpreted:

·         Some boys did not understand the message and this overwhelmed them so much that they slept in the class to overcome the trauma.

·         Some boys misunderstood the message and the poor chaps went to the Computer Lab instead.

·         Some made a detour to the washroom, drinking water and lab in that order.

·         Unfortunately a few were not in the class when the instructions were given.

·         One or two had set up a race on who could copy the 'snail's pace' better on the way to the Physics Lab.

On the other hand miracle happens when your message beckons them to the Computer Lab:

·         Everybody understands

·         Everybody reaches before time

·         There is 100% attendance in the class within two minutes.

·         The 'snail's pace' boys put Usain Bolt to shame by the speed with which they rush to the lab.

If you experience smiling kids around you, more than usual trying to touch your feet or trying to seek your company and advise or appreciating you for random reasons, which you never realised existed in you, don't start feeling smug about your popularity. There are chances that:

·         Exams are round the corner.

·         Parent Teacher Meeting is scheduled next week.

Another unanswered mystery which baffles all teachers is that when you begin to collect notebooks for correction. Why is it that only the children who had incomplete work have their notebooks stolen around the given date?

I am a Physics teacher and the subject can be pretty intimidating to a majority of the students. I lighten it up by my class activities and the Physics jokes that I crack. (I have a collection of Physics jokes on almost all the topics) So we try to find out if Fatehveer exerts more pressure standing on the teacher's table or lying on it. My joke on Pascal and Newton draws meaningful silences from an otherwise noisy class.I have to de-fragment the joke to elicit laughter from them. A few Class XI students try to sleep on my painstakingly prepared worksheets, forcing me to remark that at least Physics problems cannot be solved by 'sleeping on them’. The pun draws a collective sigh from the class. They have learnt to put up with my idiosyncrasies.

Teaching can be fun and a difficult task at the same time. The words teenager and patience are rarely uttered in one sentence. Adolescents are well-known for being irritable, impulsive, and craving instant gratification. It requires enormous patience to explain the same concept ten times with a smile on your face, to be non -judgmental when you just want to give a piece of your mind, to deliver your best in front of a non -appreciative audience at times. A whole lot of preparation goes in providing a variety of learning experiences to students of varied interests, holding the attention of irrepressible teenagers for 40 minutes and preempting their unpredictable behavior. You master the art of communication when you preach without sounding like a preacher. I can make kids listen because I have learnt how to get their attention .


Monday 10 November 2014


 It is 5.30am in the morning. 3/4th of the world is in deep slumber. Not mine! My world is alive and kicking. Between pushing an unwilling dog out of the house and waking up two unwilling kids, I rush to make tea and while the tea is boiling, I do my breathing exercises( I need an overdose of oxygen to last me the whole day). After fixing up the breakfast, I rush to take a quick bath since it is already 6.30.
 Knock, knock, knock. I rush to open the door. ‘Who’s there?’’ Aditya’. ‘Aditya who?’ ‘Adityavardhan Shukla’(there are four Adityas in my house). Three indignant looking pre-teens are standing at my door. ‘Ma’am he called me Shukla –dukla’. I chide the offender who is   sheepishly standing at the back. I have a sniggering doubt that he is trying to suppress his smile. No time for any more rebuke. I rush in. A hurried bath and I am ready for the morning roll call. After the inspection, 35 pairs of hands rush to touch my feet. With 20 ‘god bless you’ , I take the support of the table behind me for balance.
I gingerly touch my new car. The dash board resembles that of an airplane. Blue light at the brakes makes me nervous. I feel claustrophobic with the power windows and central-locking system and a sensor for reverse gear. They seem to have a mind of their own. I distrust intelligent machines (Comes out of watching too many science fiction movies). I start the car, all the while missing my simple creaky old one. 30 seconds into the drive and my windows lock in. The one mile journey ends. Thank God, the car did not take off. But the key refuses to come out of the ignition. I panic (Comes out of reading too many newspapers). I look around and see no one. I estimate the time in which all the oxygen will finish inside the car. I see the bus driver and wave at him. He opens my door and takes the key out. I feel foolish.
By the time I head to the dining hall, JN boys have started coming out. I try to stay out of the sight of DSWD. He still spots me.
Assembly is the time to catch a breath and I do so with deep breathes. The boy at the back turns his head look at me. I give up trying to nourish my lungs.
After two periods of class in the Science block, I am heading back to the main building. The teacher’s lounge with its two split ACs beckons me.HM of Nimaji house is walking ahead of me. I see the telephone booth guy with a 50 rupee note in his hand and an indignant expression on his face. He is followed by a sheepish Pratham of JN house. Sensing trouble, I turn to go back, but I am spotted. ‘Talk to his HM’, she says pointing at me. The phone booth guy tells me Pratham offered him the money to let him call his parents. And I thought JN troubles will not follow me to the school. I call up the father and question him about the wisdom of giving his son ‘black money’. He is apologetic.
Another class; I give a quiz on chemical symbols. Harshit thinks that students will cheat since I have not done any special seating arrangement.I tell him that I trust everybody not to cheat. If they do so it is their problem, not mine. I will not stop trusting. Not a single child lifts his head from the paper during the test.
My ride back to the house is uneventful. The moment I apply the brakes, I am surrounded by a bevy of agitated Jankojians. Between the chorus of how Varun ate only one chapati in the dining hall or how Pratham was reprimanded by Rakhi Ma’am or Harshit skipped the breakfast, I don the mantle of a judge and a counsel. An agitated Hardik informs that Aditya Ranjan is missing. Everybody goes on a searching spree. And when I think I am on the brink of having a heart seizure, Hardik remembers .Aditya Ranjan has gone to the Health Centre because he had the nosebleed during the school hours. I glare at Hardik.
By the time I reach my door, the phone rings. Ritvik’s mother is wanting to know if Ritvik is OK. By the time I end the conversation it rings again (my days of afternoon siesta/ beauty sleep are far behind me) .The evening brings Astachal, prep and dinner duties.
9pm.After the roll call, I sit down to edit the story written by Hiteshwar for ‘Footprints’. Hiteshwar, I am sure will grow up to become a novelist because he writes stories which never end. He has this irritating habit of writing, ‘to be continued’ at the end of each story. I forced him to kill the hero ‘Johny Flame’ of his story and in his ire, he did that very abruptly. I give a new lease of life to Johny Flame and impart some solemnity to his death.
I peep out of the mesh door. My two friends- the owls are perched on the ceiling fan of the verandah. One of them rotates his head clockwise to glare at me. I wave. The quiet owls are my soul birds. The wise owl sees all but says nothing.
I go for a last round in the dormitory. Children are getting their uniforms ready. Another barrage of grievances follows. And when I tell the kids about my article for the review about Jankoji house, everybody wants their name to be put in it. And when I narrate the beginning, everybody laughs which brings the Matron into the dormitory. I leave.
By the time I enter my home, tidy up the kitchen, tie up the clothes to be ironed and put dirty laundry in the washing machine, my kids are fast asleep. I will talk to them tomorrow.
11pm. My head hits the pillow. Spondylitis has denied me the simple pleasure of reading in the bed. Tomorrow holds the promise. Tomorrow will be another beautiful day.

Niharika Kulshresth

Sunday 10 March 2013

How far will you trust?

                       How far will you trust?

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.

Ernest Hemingway

 I have been a very gullible person and a simpleton and must have been a joke of a lot many who thought they fooled me.That still didn't stop me from trusting people, from taking them at their face value.I felt deceived and cheated and went through a low phase till recently.
I took a test in my Science class and asked the students to check the test themselves after tallying their answers with my correct ones.'Ma'm', one child protested,'it will be so unfair.Everybody will give full marks to themselves'. He was probably right for most of the cases but the child had to learn the lesson of trust. I told him,' Suryansh I trust each one of you and if somebody breaks my trust, it is his problem, not mine.'
I don't know if the strategy works with grown-ups but it most frequently does with the children. If you show a child that you trust him, he will carry it like an obligation on his frail shoulders.Anticipate a child's move and plan my strategies accordingly, cynics would advise me.For God's sake, this is not a battlefield.It is a classroom and kids are involved and I am not a sleuth.I am a teacher.
In this world which is so full of mistrust and hatred , are we giving the right values to our kids? More than that- are we setting examples which would develop positive learning experiences in them?
Unconsciously we pass on many prejudices and pre-conceived notions to these impressionable kids.As mom/teacher we can make an effort not to show the kids our feet of clay.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Harvard Tour
While on a visit to Boston for my mid-term Orientation by Fulbright, we got a chance to visit the Harvard University. A delightful freshman with her witty one-liners and wonderful treasure of information made the tour all the more memorable.

Statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

                                   The freshman student regaling us with her charming stories.

                                                           The Widener Library- a romantic tragedy 
(According to a campus legend, under the terms of the Widener family donation, the exterior of the library is never to be altered, or else ownership of the building reverts to the city of Cambridge)
                                             Shantanu trying to make a small talk with the penguins

                                              Look out for the shark!

                                    Boston duck tour on the Charles River. Shantanu the Captain!
                                               Friends I made
                                             Steve and Maggi- wonderful mentors and resource people

                                                        Harvard Square

Saturday 2 March 2013

Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.

                     Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein           

Most of the people of my generation grew up wanting- or pining ,to use a stronger word. And I remember that my desires were simple- a geometry box, a colouring book or an Archie’s comic. And these were not granted immediately.' Instant gratification' was a word unheard of. I think my mom believed that postponing the purchase would either decrease the cost of the object or make the wish go away or I would find ways to manage without it.
Now when my son comes and tells me that he has to buy his Science text book again after losing losing two of his previous ones in a period of three months, and the term is getting over in three weeks- I stare at him incomprehensively. The books I studied from had passed from one year to another and were bought 'second hand' at half the price and resold next year at half the price.Of course the curriculum didn't change so frequently and that helped the recycling of books.
When my kids insisted two years back that I should get them enrolled in a summer activity camp being organised in our city,I happily agreed. Anything to make the kids and me get up at 5.30am in the morning during their summer break, found my approval. The problem wasn't the fees either. It was the way of getting the two of them to the campsite.I couldn't trust my driving skills in the mad traffic of the city.So we hired a driver for the kids and he came pretty expensive.A week into the camp, the novelty wore off and the hassle of getting up before sunrise took its toll. I increasingly found waking the kids up and bundling them in the car inspite of their tantrums and protests very difficult.Till, one morning we did some calculations. Added all the expenses and divided it by the number of days of the camp. And we came to the conclusion that every time the kids didn't go to the camp, we lost the 'quotient' amount of money. My husband who overheard our conversation accused me of being mean and protested that he was earning enough to get everything the kids wanted. But good sense prevailed and children never again complained about being made to get up at 5.30 am in the morning during their summer break.
I teach in a boarding school and the students come from affluential backgrounds. A majority of the kids lack the drive, the spark to achieve. During PTM when I tell the parents that they must learn to deprive their child of  privileges sometimes, desist from instantly gratifying the child's wishes- I get mixed reactions.Today, as over indulgent parents, we succumb to every demand of our kids - it could be a guilt feeling of not having given the quality time to them. Or living as we do in nuclear families, we think kids are the reason we are earning.The child who gets all his whims and fancies gratified, becomes more demanding and selfish.
I have found such kids to be very self- centred, uncaring and insensitive.
I would rather be human and not a sacrificing mother. Let the kids know that even I have some needs.Let the kids pine for some unfulfilled desire.Let them learn to reciprocate my affection, share their candies with me, and realise that 'money does not grow on tree'.