Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Technology And Its Impact On Children

This was sent to me by my father, based on his experiences in dealing with my nephews and observing other kids where he lives in India. Enjoy - Sri

I am amazed at the way children are able to make use of the technological inventions which have sprouted in the last few years. Gone are the days when they were satisfied with simple electronic toys or cartoons like Tom and Jerry or Donald Duck.

What fascinates children, are the new game platforms which are proliferating. The makers of these games are targeting kids right from the primary stage in education. Usually the profile of the children is that they belong to families where both parents are well employed. So money is no constraint and they are able to buy the latest offerings frequently even if they cost a few thousands of Rupees.

We feel happy when we see the ease with which the kids are able to understand and play these games. What is disturbing is that the children become obsessed with these games and sit glued to the computers for hours together. They neither see nor hear other things. They stop only under parental compulsion. Even when they are not playing, their mind is possessed by these games and they compare notes with their friends who, like them, are addicted to the past time.

The other possible fall-outs from this could be;
a) They may not find time for their studies
b) Reading books will become out of fashion
c) They will have very little time for interacting with other family members.

Tackling this problem is not going to be easy. If one tries to ban these games from the house, it will cause resentment. The children will feel that their peers will look down upon them.

The first step that can be taken is to talk to them and convince them to reduce the time they spend on this activity to, say, 1 hour per day. Other steps that can be thought of are to encourage and persuade them to widen their interest. They can be advised to take up swimming, playing games involving physical activities like football, basketball etc. They can also be guided to take up some branch of music.

The idea behind all this is to develop a package of activities for them, so that they will have no time or inclination to over indulge in any of these games. Their life will become sort of balance.

K. Sivaramakrishnan

Monday, April 4, 2011

India 2011 – Scribbles

I feel invigorated. We just came back a week ago from visiting family in India. Although I spent two weeks over there, it wasn’t enough at all. But I made the most of it.

After an unpredictable flight into Bombay by Air India (with Air India, it is mostly unpredictable), I was greeted by my daughter running towards me and jumping on me at the airport. What a welcome!

Most of my family, and my wife and her family had come to the airport to receive me. Another welcome was the warm weather after the never-ending cold weather in NYC.

Choo Choo Train
Tvisha had wanted to experience a long distance train ride, and we decided to travel to Pune by train, and spend a couple of days there.

We reached Victoria Terminus, the starting point for the train. After negotiating the opportunistic porters, security, navigating around hoards of people sitting on the floor or standing or looking for their trains like we were, around cartons and many other obstacles, we finally reached the platform where our train Udyan Express was stationed.

We had to walk past almost 14 cars till we got to our car. Anita almost quit on Tvisha and me, after walking past the dirt and grime on the platform, and the obnoxious smell from the railway tracks. I kept saying to her, it would get better ☺.

There was some improvement, although the train car was like 100 years old and looked like it had seen better times.

The train ride to Pune was a fantastic experience, as it brought back so many memories of the countless long distance trips I have made by train with my family – the constant hustle and bustle of people and vendors in and out the train in the platform, people selling all kinds of things and the best part, the fellow passengers! One gets to meet some really nice people on these train rides, usually.

Wife and daughter

Posing in the train - Wife and I (I could do better :-))

The conductor was nice enough to pose for us :-)

We met a nice person by the name of Satish Kusurkar on his way to Pune on an official trip, with whom we got talking and built a good rapport with him. He was gracious enough to narrate a story to Tvisha about an elephant and wolves, which she thoroughly enjoyed. Satish, it was really nice to get to know you. Thanks ☺

The travel to Pune was around 3 hours 45 minutes. We slept a lot while in Pune, met my vocal lessons teacher who I had only met virtually, did some shopping, and went to the famous Dagdu Sheth Ganesh temple. We dined at what I thought would be a great restaurant serving traditional Maharashtrian food, which turned out to be horrible. We also spent precious time with one of my close friends and his family.

Finally it was time to head back to Bombay. The train ride back sucked. It was a chair car, with all seats facing in one direction, and was pretty cramped and very crowded unlike the ride in, which was wonderful.

A couple of days later my entire family, wife and kid, and my father in law headed to Manas resort in Igatpuri near Nasik with the promise of a good time. Nasik is a city a few hours away from Bombay and is famous for its grapes and vineries that have come up there.

Although it was hot (110-115 degrees F) the drive was wonderful. We had to drive through the ghat section and the roads were well laid out. The resort was just around 60 miles away.

We got there around late afternoon. We had rented a villa with a common gathering room and 3 bedrooms. It was a very relaxing time spent together with family. I got to play badminton after years, and carrom as well. My brother and I sang a bunch of Hindi songs and some of the great Beatles melodies late into the night, and everyone else had a great time listening to us and joining when they could.

The resort also had a swimming pool where may daughter and her cousins had loads of fun, spa services where I enjoyed a good massage, there was coloring for the kids, a library, and one could also learn how to make small oil lamps out of mud. I loved that, and I think I didn’t too badly, it being the first time ☺.

I also met the chef there at the local restaurant, after I really liked a few of the dishes he had produced. I got the recipes for the same, and will be posting them after some modifications in my other blog,

The kids loving the pool with other kids in the resort

My brother warming up

Hanging out with family and early morning coffee

Wife trying her hand in making an oil lamp :-)

She was jealous of my finished product ;-) just kidding!

Holi Fire

On the way back - liked this formation

On the way back we took a detour and went to a small town called Titwaala, famous for its Ganesh temple. I hadn’t been to that temple in around 15 years or so. We got back home late in the evening.

Errands and meeting friends
While in India, I could only meet a few of my friends since the time was short, we were traveling quite a bit, and it was very hectic. I did manage to call some of them and regret having not called/met the others I wanted to.

I took my wife to a few of my favorite eating places to eat pani puri, dahi puri, samosa, bhel, vada pav and sev puri. Only a couple of joints have remained the same in terms of taste, and the rest of them have slid down the rating scale.

Most of the last week we were there was spent with 3 Indian banks trying to get our things in order. It is mind boggling, the process that one needs to go through to get things done. I suppose it is necessary given the safety measures the banks have, but even then, if one is not patient or does not take notes or pay attention, then God save you! One could start a blog to assist people who want help when they are banking in India ☺. The one good thing was that the people who worked in the bank were extremely helpful.

Compared to last year, Tvisha did well health wise this time. We kind of won the battle against the mosquitoes. When you travel to India, never leave home without a can of 'Off' the mosquito repellent as a companion, or else you will really be turned off by the mosquitoes!

She developed heat boils though all over her face, hands and legs and was in real trouble, scratching herself all the time to the extent that she wouldn’t be able to sleep. The answer to this, thanks to our friend, was Neem leaves. Pluck them off the tree, soak them in water overnight, and then add hot water and bathe in that. As simple as that. A couple of days and all the heat boils disappeared. I didn’t know that neem is a tremendous anti oxidant and has great healing powers.

My birthplace and hometown! Every time I visit, it never ceases to amaze me. Now I see taller and taller buildings being built every time I go there, the real estate prices soaring through the roof, the gap between the rich and poor getting wider and wider, all kinds of new cars being introduced with the latest of all the cars plying on the road.

It is beginning to look like the West in terms of the materialistic things. But the one thing that hasn’t yet changed at a certain level is the people and their niceness. That can’t be substituted by anything, and keeps me wanting to go back there again and again, and each time I keep entertaining the thought of moving back there.

I did a lot of eating out, trying out my favorite joints, bought a lot of music back and got to spend a decent time with my family, although I wish I could have done more of that.

Anita, Tvisha and I really enjoyed our stay there this time, especially not having to worry about Tvisha and her health.

Damn it!
All good things do come to and end. From a 110 + degree F weather, landing at JFK to a 30 degree F weather was a rude awakener, making me think why the hell did I even come back ☺.

By the way, India won the cricket world cup after 28 long years!!!!! Way to go!!!!!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

America – The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave

This essay was written by my friends Balaji and Priya's son Yash. I wanted to share this with you as it is so beautifully written. Yash was 11 years old when he wrote this.

The topic for the contest was "America: The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave". This was the winning entry.....1st place Chapter, 1st place State, 1st place Eastern Division (Washington D.C., MD,NJ,DE, PA,MA,VA ) and 1st place National.

America –
The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave

As the sun inched forward, Sam felt his life ebb away. It was fitting, he thought. He lay in his own blood, the rifle still warm in his hand. The battle had only lasted three days, but had marred the land in red. Sam had broken through Pickett’s Charge, taking out many Confederates singlehandedly. When the first bullet pierced his flesh, he felt no fear or remorse. “If this was the price of freedom, so be it!”

It was pitch dark. Sam’s lungs were bursting. The smoke had enveloped everything, even the deafening screams. Pain seared through him. He was trapped. Chaos and terror was what he had walked into when he entered the building this morning, but there was no time to think. He rushed in to help the hundreds trapped above. Now, every breath was a labor. The building shuddered. He knew the end was near.

The color of his skin had destined Sam to toil in the fields, but Sam was not one to accept destiny. His faith that God had created all men equal, had driven him to loosen the shackles of slavery, and escape to Pennsylvania to join the Union. Braving the elements, and the risk of getting caught, Sam joined the Union Army. Three days of endless fighting, and all Sam wanted now was to sleep.

Sam woke up. It wasn’t the alarm or the baby. It was him … and a strange restless feeling. Even the coffee didn’t help. He checked in on the baby. She looked angelic sleeping in her mother’s arms. His wife, peacefully asleep, had never looked as beautiful as she did today. He couldn’t believe how fast the years had passed by – she had been his high school sweetheart. The trance was broken. The T.V. news reporter’s monotonous babble rose a few pitches. Sam turned around to watch the horror unfold.

The battlefield was marked by the dead and the dying. The Confederates and Union troops had clashed here mercilessly, but in death they became one, for they bled the same red.

The streets were red, dotted with fire trucks. Sam flashed his N.Y. Fire Department badge at the officer, and said, “Off duty!” He raced up the floors, bringing many to safety. The building shuddered. More screams. It was the last time that Sam went up that staircase.

The sun was up now, and so was the Union flag. Yes, it was fitting! The shackles of slavery were finally broken. Sam had beaten destiny. His last breath was his first of freedom. He was free at last.
Cemetery Hill, Gettysburg. July 3, 1863.

It was eerily silent, but Sam could hear his wife’s voice, and his daughter’s first word, “Da”. The building shuddered again. Sam closed his eyes. With a hand on his heart he began to softly sing, “The Star Spangled Banner”. His world came crashing down. World Trade Center, South Tower, New York. September 11, 2001.

Yash Balaji

Monday, January 10, 2011

For Tvisha – Age 16, 1982

I believe that I was promoted to grade 12 by the college officials, who were very kind to me by not failing me, due to which I would have lost a year. I know I did well enough to pass every subject except the French language. Well, you get what you deserve if you don’t attend classes.

During this time, my passion for the Beatles grew by leaps and bounds. I made a few friends in college who were also like-minded about the group. I started slowly accumulating each of their albums, and having listened to them so often on a daily basis, began to sing their songs as well. That is when I discovered that I had a God given good voice.

I was a little more serious as far as studies were concerned, and ended up faring a little better than the previous year. I would go on to pursue my Bachelors in Science after this year in the same college.

Otherwise grade 12 was more or less a repeat of grade 11 for me, but for most of my friends, it was time to get really serious about their studies as grade 12 is the launching pad to head on to do 4 year courses in computer applications, medicine, Indian Institute of Technology, etc. I am not sure why but I had no such aspirations. To get into these programs, students had to score above 98% in the 3 main subjects Physics, Chemistry and Math, and overall as well.

One day, Krish, thaatha and I were at the doctors. Suddenly we saw one of the boys from our apartment building in Bandra over there. Our eyes locked in, and we smiled at each other. This was as good an opportunity to start talking and getting to know each other. That led to us mixing with all the other girls and boys in the building.

Krish and I realized how wrong we were all the time. These guys were really cool, and I believe they thought the same about us as well. One thing we did manage to have them do over time was to let go! These guys were very proper on how to behave and how to talk in general. We kind of loosened them up to a great extent ☺. You don’t need to be too disciplined all the time you know, and have to let your hair down now and then and enjoy life.

We started getting along really well, and would play cricket matches every Sunday, and badminton and table tennis in the weekends.

There was an individual by the name of Ganpati who was such a motivator for all of us. He formed a club in the building and had us paint badminton courts and put up the net, would take us hiking in the monsoon. We would have building get togethers, pot lucks, badminton, carrom and table tennis championships, etc. We would all go to movies together.
Those were some of the best years of my life. We started going to Sion less often. Krish and I would move to Bandra, as now we loved Bandra, and its people too!

- Appa

For Tvisha – Age 15, 1981

Dear Tvisha,

1981 was a new beginning for me – it was the year I went to college. Don’t be confused. In India we start college (higher secondary as it is known) after secondary school that lasts from grade 6 till grade 10.

I joined the science stream (remember the famous wish of parents during that time? – doctor or engineer as a future career? :-)). Moreover, Krish was also in Science, so why not me too was the thought.

College was totally new after school – no more uniforms, the flexibility of not attending class when you didn’t feel like (at least that’s the way I thought, which wasn’t a good thing to do ha ha), and for me I was coming from a boys only school to a co-ed college.

So, first of all, I had to now deal with girls! Ha ha, problem was I was so shy with girls, I had no girls with whom I talked at all for almost my whole college life. The most I would do was smile at a few girls in my class. That was the extent of my friendship with them. It wasn’t the same with the boys. I had lots and lots of friends in college who were boys. The college had a gym with all kinds of games, and a canteen that were my two favorite places to hang out, apart from hanging outside the college with my friends, and friends from near our apartment, and friends of Krish. By the way the college was one block from our apartment building.

We had quite a personality who was our principal at the time, Mr. Ramaswamy. He used to be a chain smoker and would always take a walk around the college a few times during the day seeking out students who had bunked lectures and were in the canteen or in the gym. Whenever you saw some students suddenly run away from the corridor, you knew he was around and we would go and hide wherever we could :-). The problem was that I had been caught a few times by him and I had to be a little careful. I was more visible than others in college as I was out most of the time, and very rarely did attend lectures, and my attendance went from good to very poor. So my studies suffered, and what went up was my carom playing skills and my debt with the canteen guy for all the food and coffee I would go through on a daily basis.

In the meanwhile thaatha got an offer from the bank to move to one of the apartments the bank rented where we could, till the end of his tenure with the bank, live in a bigger 2 bedroom apartment in Bandra, a town around 10 miles away from Sion.

Krish and I hated the idea of moving from Sion. All our friends were there, moreover we would have to travel daily by bus to reach our college in Sion whereas now it was a half a minute walk. Bandra was an upscale town where all the rich people lived. So we branded all of them as snobs. Thaatha was adamant that he wanted to live there. So although we shifted all our stuff to the bank’s apartment, Krish and I continued to spend the day and almost all nights in Sion.

Now in Sion, since there was no adult with us, the apartment became a den with any of our friends walking in when they chose, and there always used to be some guys there. It got so bad that at times, even we wouldn’t know who was in our house when we would go there. All this was because we had spare keys to the apartment out to some of our friends. We knew this had to stop.

We lived in Pali Hill, Bandra. It is a place where a lot of film actors lived, and very rich individuals. It is a very affluent part of Bombay, with the sea nearby and has a lot of clubs and gymkhanas to cater to these folks. Each family in the apartment building had at least one car. Initially there were not many people to be seen at all, and even if we did see them, most of the time they would be getting into or out of their cars.

Krish and I formed a very false impression about the building we moved to, as we would find out in some months. Aided by this perception, there was shyness as well that stopped us from really approaching the guys our age whom we did see there to become friends with. Until then we would live in Sion, and commute once or twice a week to be with thaatha.

- Appa

Monday, January 3, 2011

For Tvisha – Age 14, 1980

Dear Tvisha,

I lost mammai (my grandma) to cancer in November 1980. I knew she was very serious when they had asked thaatha to come to Madras and be with her during her last few days. When I received the eventual call from there about her demise, I reacted with no emotion. Krish and I had learnt to set aside all our emotions in some deep corner of our minds. It was as if we had decided that we wouldn’t cry over losing her.

Although she hadn’t been living with us for almost the last two years, it was a big loss for me, having lost someone who had played the role of my mother, after my mother’s demise at a very young age. I still have fond memories of both of them to this day. I only wish that I could have spent a much longer time with them than I had done.

I did get the chance to visit mammai that year when I had gone to Madras with thaatha. I still couldn’t comprehend the seriousness of the illness and the obvious result that it would have. Or, she didn’t show her suffering through it, since she was such a strong lady mentally and always had a smile for me.

My uncle stayed half a mile away from his sister (my aunt) in Madras. I always used to love going to Madras. There was a general store right around the corner, in between my uncle’s apartment and my aunt’s house. Since I had found a substitute to my favorite drink, Coke, in something called Thums Up!, I used to drink quite a few daily and usually asked the store keeper to add the cost of the drinks to my aunt’s monthly account with him. I got nicknamed Thums Up Aiiyaa (Mr. Thums Up!) by the people who worked at the store, due to the sheer number of Thums Up I used to drink on a daily basis.

It got to a point where the bill went way too high. So I came up with this idea of splitting the daily cost of the colas evenly between my uncle and his sister so that neither of them would feel the pinch. Clever, huh? :-)

For my birthday that year, I was gifted and introduced to my very first Beatles album by Krish. It was the best gift I could receive. That’s how I came to know and love The Beatles, my favorite music group. The album Krish got me was ‘Revolver’. The Beatles were arguably the most popular music group during the 60’s till the disbanded in 1970.

On Dec 8, 1980, John Lennon, one of the leaders of the group, died at the age of 40 after being shot by a person outside his apartment building. It was one of the biggest shocks in the music world. Krish was very upset about this.

This was also my final year of school, and the pressure was immense on everyone since we would be moving on to college and we had perform well in order to get into the college of our choice. For the first time, I took tuitions in Math and Science from my class teacher, Mr. Pandey, to help me do well in the final exams, held by the state. School that year wasn’t that much fun because of all this pressure.


For Tvisha – Age 13, 1979

Dear Tvisha,

1979 was a year that seemed to go by very fast.

Since thaatha was provided with a car the previous year, I wanted to learn how to drive as soon as possible. I learnt to drive a car when I was 12, and would drive around the apartment building first going back and forth, and left and right in the tight corners around the building, navigating around other parked cars. That is how I honed my driving skills that made me very confident on the main streets in Bombay.

What was very popular around that time was the only open air theater in Bombay, another perk we could enjoy thanks to the car at our disposal. I went to see so many movies, experiencing this unique way of watching movies along with Krish, thaatha, Ghosalkar, our friends, and also the resident mosquitoes from the nearby bird sanctuary :-). The food used to be great, and I can still remember the flavor of the best popcorn I have had over there.

Thaatha’s brother moved to the city of Madras (now Chennai), located in the South of India. I don’t know the exact reasons for it. He also took mammai (my grandma) along with him, and again thaatha, Krish and I were all alone. Thus began a new phase of life, with three men trying to take care of their job and school, and housework as well. Fun!

Thaatha used to tour a lot then. So our apartment was like a den when thaatha wasn’t around, with our friends from the building coming over, going out for movies, playing cards and carrom at home, studying for exams as a group, and generally hanging out.

As far as food was concerned we used to get by eating muffins and bananas most of the times for dinner. Thaatha very soon got tired of this and started preparing food at home in his own unique style – prepared very quickly, blandest food of them all, but very tasty since all you got was the natural taste of the pulses and vegetables :-).

Of course once he was done cooking, I would take over, set aside some food for him, and then completely change the makeup of the food, making it suitable to Krish’s and my palettes. That is where my curiosity to experiment with food and modifying began.

The one thing that could be looked at as if I was taking charge of my life was when we renewed celebrations of Lord Ganesha in our apartment building. If you remember we used to celebrate this occasion in a really big way. But as people started moving away from Sion on to other parts of Bombay where they could find bigger apartments for a cheaper price, there weren’t many elders who were willing to take responsibility of hosting this event in the building.

I thought about it and said to myself, why shouldn’t we have this celebration in our building, it is not difficult to do this. So, with the help of another elder friend Kumar who was thrilled with my enthusiasm, we went and purchased a clay idol and all the stuff for decorations on the day of the festival. The building came alive, even if it was only for the first few days, and then on the final day of immersion. I tried my best to go seek out and announce the timing of the poojas to the folks in the building who wanted to participate. It was a decent success at best, but I was very proud of what I did at this age.