Saturday, 29 December 2012

India today- Reality bites (Part I)

India. The Land of a 370 million Gods and Goddesses. India with its holy Ganges ,the river that purifies our soul, the river that Hindus have worshipped as Ganga Maiyya since time immemorial, whose swirling waters gush down from the Himalayas and enrich the flood plains of Northern India. The ghats of Varanasi, the Temples of the entire Subcontinent hail the feminine form as the source of 'Shakti' or  Divine Power. India. The Largest Democracy in the World. The Country that, in Jawaharlal Nehru's own words, "Awakened to freedom".. on 15th August 1947. Awakened ?? Did it really wake up!?

 In a Nation with a population of over 1.25 billion people; about half of them women- a girl, a woman, is deemed to be 'asking for it' if she ventures out alone, or steps out at night without a male companion. She is told that 'boys are boys' and that girls must 'behave' if they want to be good, virtuous and live a honourable, safe life. In our Patriarchal society, men are routinely hailed as the kul-deepak, or 'light' that bears the family name forward. What can one expect from an Indian civilization whose Epic the Mahabharata recounts that a hall full of male relatives sat and silently watched Draupadi being disrobed in the presence of many senior and brave warriors??! Yes, it began the MAHABHARATA, but did that make our BHARAT MAHAAN!!??? I do not think it does. The true horror lies in the fact that in a Country of over 1.2 Billion, who worship, and salute the Goddesses in female form as almost all Hindus do, women are still treated as second rate citizens.

Today, a brave young girl died fighting for her life. Only because she was a woman. She was minding her own business, doing what billions of young people all over the globe do when they want to relax- spending some time with a friend, doing nothing out of the ordinary. She was merely out in public in the Capital City of the Nation, (also unofficially dubbed as the 'rape- Capital' of India) and was returning home from the Cinema at half-past nine in the evening and took a bus home with her male companion. This is not something that is unheard of in India today. Youth have their freedom. Youth have the right to freedom too. I cannot imagine anyone who would say that in 2012, it is unsafe to travel in the Capital at nine-thirty p.m. It is not something that would warrant such a horrific attack on her person. Today, she has lost her life. This Unnamed and unseen young woman has struck a chord with millions of Indians all over the world who salute her spirit and vow, silently, not to let things go 'back to business as usual' as one activist put it. This time, the Awakening has to be for ever. Today, India is united in grief, anger and dismay; shame, pain and disbelief. Nothing unites a people the way sorrow does- as did this one incident in Delhi 14 days ago.

Rape is not something Indians routinely shudder at. As a nation, we have become desensitised to this horrific attack on another human. Often, we begin the day reading about an incident of rape each day, every day, in the hundreds of reports in the Daily Newspapers all over the nation. From Metro cities to small, obscure or remote villages, men often control, dominate and treat women in this manner. Every year, thousands of girls are denied the right to be born, by families that want to have a 'boy' child . Stifled and murdered in the womb, the lucky few that see the light of day are 'indoctrinated' in the millennia old traditions of chastity, virtue and dignity being the sole responsibility of the female.  A few weeks back, another young teenager committed suicide, harassed by her rapists and troubled by the indifference of the Police Force-  a force employed explicitly for the protection of all citizens. A force led by an ignoble officer in that remote village who was even reluctant to lodge an FIR against the 'upper caste' rapists of the young Dalit girl.

 As I read the articles and soul-search within, looking at NDTV footage of Sunitha (a brave Rape-Survivor who was gang-raped 24 years ago, as a young girl of fifteen) a cry of unbelievable horror involuntarily escapes me...My little girls (8 and 6yrs old) look up from their playing and run up to me, abandoning their toy-train games on the carpet. "Mummy, what happened, why are you upset..?" I silently hug them, burying myself in their innocence, their childhood.
I search for words to explain to them in a way that they will understand, why being a girl/woman in India today is such a horrendous disadvantage.... Why men, unknown/ known/ strange/ familiar, must be approached in a guarded, manner, lest we be labelled 'frivolous' or 'flirtatious', 'coquettish' or worse....Why a raped woman is questioned about her 'past' , criticized for her choice of 'clothes' an the length of her skirt, the 'westernised' youth are told that these things did not happen in the last century? Isn't it true that looting, raping and killing innocents was part of the horror of partition?? This is the way most of our grandparents remember that most painful cleaving of the subcontinent. not only that, in the year 2000, Gujarat again reeled under the attack when the communal riots broke out...

I have questions but no answers, anger but no fury...just a quiet, silent, cry of horror...  As a society, we have a lot to answer for- be it individually, or in our world-view, our predisposition to creating and viewing  'ladki dekho- seeti maaro,' kind of films. In our refusal to see the 'symptoms' as symptoms and the 'disease' as DIS-EASE... In my eyes, the malaise of our society is the 'superiority complex' that some Indian Men are encouraged to adopt- be it via their upbringing, when parents and elders routinely favour the 'son' and 'truss' up the daughter to be the 'virtue' of the family. Where all the tenets of chastity and dignity are applied to a girl and rape is the ultimate degradation- the blot, that is likened to an indelible stain on her soul.
Many a time, a family with only daughters is looked upon as unfortunate, incomplete. Sometimes, an elderly relative or unassuming Asian patient (who I attended to as a Healthcare Professional) inquires if I have any children, and when I tell them, yes, I have two little girls, I am told, don't worry, God will bless you with a son too, someday. The sad fact is that they don't even think of the possibility that I am totally happy with my two Angelic Brats, and thank God every moment for the blessing of their lives.

Someday, I know, I will have to acquaint my daughters with the sad truth about the reason behind the regressive Indian mindset. Someday I will  have to tell them, of how walking, cycling, riding a scooter 'safely' back home in India, used to be an achievement in my University days... Eve-teasers abounded on every College corner, checking girls out and freely commenting on looks, hair, clothes etc. Often, I felt anger, a rush of disgust and solid good-old contempt for the mean-spirited sons of a society brought up with the mindset 'Menfolk are superior', just because they are men. Just because they possess the XY chromosome, and just because they have 'that' piece of equipment hanging between their legs.

Rape, Female Infanticide, Domestic Abuse and Crimes against women are the symptoms of our Patriarchal Society that is steeped in disease. The disease born from the 'superiority complex' that India has bestowed on all things Male. Forgetting the Value-system of our ancient forefathers, our Upanishads and the Vedas, the selective filtering of the desire for a 'son' has made India forget that Lord Rama was called Maryaada-Purushottam Ram because of Sita being his one and only wife. Even he was guilty and pined for her when he banished her to the forest, as an expectant mother...
Gone are the days of the sensitivity and gentleness of  actor Balraj Sahni and the Kabuliwala, who raised menfolk to the status of a fatherly figure in the eyes and psyche of his beloved mini bitiya. In India today, a three year Old girl is brutally raped in a kindergarten by one of the School support staff, and the deplorable, despicable vermin is merely locked up for the better part of a decade. What about the innocent child whose life he had so brutally and irrevocably damaged?! 

Most boys and men in India today are well-educated, conscientious and respectful of women and elders alike. It would be wrong to paint an entire populace with the same brush as the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against humankind. But then again, there is a well-known saying, "One rotten apple spoils the lot." Granted, that not all of the nearly half a billion men are eve teasers or rapists. But as a society, we are going terribly wrong somewhere as we have done since time immemorial, to have brought a daughter of our country such untold physical and emotional anguish. That she fought for her life bravely is a testimony to her spirit, and it is this spirit that we, all 1.2 billion of us Indians must salute and resolve to imbibe. It is when a horror such as this strikes us, that India looks a little bit deeper into its heart and sees the elements of a regressive, sickening mindset searing the millions of good men who are innocent. So who do we blame? The Police, the Rapists, the Politicians? Why not address the issue of gender inequality in India at its most basic. Let us begin at the lowest rung of the ladder and eradicate the problem from the grass-root level??

 Long ago, in pre-Independence India, Raja Ram Mohan Roy had protested against the Sati pratha . his reform was the spark that ignited the change, until the practice was eventually outlawed by the British Raj in 1829 A.D. Now,we only read about it in books, or see it in remotely grainy Black & White films or a bygone era...At present, though, I content myself with making these notes for the future, chronicling our life and times. Hoping for a much better tomorrow when rape and Female Foeticide, dowry and the circus of the 'superior male' will have been wiped out. I hope for a future of equality and promise, wherein girls can be born and grow as equals to any boy or man in India. When they can thrive and realise their potential, fulfil their dreams and achieve their ambition.

India today, needs to awaken again. The country needs to adapt itself to be fit to function in the 21st century. On one hand, we have women in our Armed forces, Police and Paramilitary forces, we have women stand alongside and often overtake men on the professional front. on the other hand, we treat women in such a reprehensible manner- assaulting them physically, verbally, emotionally and in countless other ways. The perpetrators are not men alone, but all of society. Each and every one of us is culpable. From the miscarriage of justice to the one who does 'nothing' when faced with these atrocities. So what can we do!? One thing we ALL can do is start small. in our communities, in our localities- if we see someone behaving badly, make it 'our  business' to stop them. Not by violence. Not by attacking them, but by joining hands with like-minded people and showing them that this will not be tolerated. Also, a petition written by Namita Bhandare is to go out to the President of the Republic of India. you can read and sign it too, if you wish. (here)

Let's not dissect this incident alone and sensationalise the young woman who lost her life by singing odes to her, or lighting candles. By signing posters or shouting slogans. All this is going to be short-lived. What we need is a slow, steady flame that becomes a blaze. a Blaze of reform and change. A fire that burns evil, purifies our conscience and shows each one of us a mirror. Let us not question why we were silent for so long- this has been allowed to fester for far too long anyhow- the time to Act is NOW! The fight has just begun. Tough times lie ahead, and if we all can make our localities, our communities or streets that little bit safer, then India will, one day, be truly FREE.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

A silent Prayer...


Please click this link to hear the background score for this short, mental, 'film'. Now imagine yourself for a few minutes as if you are in an ocean, drifting along, floating on waves of pure joy... Now read on...

Dearest Daddy,
 I really feel you and Kaka will have a great time together after many years!! I still smile to myself whenever I think of the two of you TOGETHER, as the first image that comes to my mind is like a flash of a fast forward movie- the kind of visuals my mind has always been able to relive of the times Kaka visited us and vice versa. THE BEST image in that 'flash forward' is an imaginary one, of course- !! - it is the image which you 'made' for me!! When you narrated the times you & Kaka were slogging and sweating in Dilli ka Ghar room, trying to make your own water-air cooler as young boys!! The fact that Bapuji and Ba gave you all children ample chance to explore, learn and grow is a testament to the wonderful and well-rounded individuals you grew up to be. It is one of my favourite 'family movies' to 'watch'  when I miss you, Daddy, and its all the more special because in those days you and Mummy consciously decided to keep our lives simple- so we had none of the overwhelming technology (which, at the time meant Black&White T.V's, VCRs imported from Sri Lanka, Radio etc) in short, any thing and everything that was fondly referred to as Idiot Box-   to distract us.
We did have cassette tape players, LPs, 45 RPMs, and other kinds of influences, which one can 'stream' or 'control' by choosing the one suitable for the mood, atmosphere, feelings of others.....Pesky mosquitoes hummed and sang in my seven or ten year-old ears, stinging the legs and arms. We all sat in the IAF home front or back gardens. Being kids, we would drift outside to sit with you & Mummy, and often fall asleep in those chairs! We sat in the semi-darkness as a family and you talked to us. A lot of parents today (and I am guilty of it too) seldom find time to interact with children. We all have our stock of inexcusable 'excuses' like mine- lack of 'time' with kids being at school all day, and me always working afternoons and evenings and returning long after the kids are in bed already... and weekends at work too...)
A whole generation is growing up on iPad Apps and super-fast broadband and we have all but lost the time to enjoy TIME. TOGETHER... Life is like a sherbet drink; keep the flavour basic and simple, stick to what you really like and you will always enjoy it! Mix in too many different flavours and you might end up with something you don't want to drink, but cannot waste, either. Cos its life, and you MADE it- adding the flavours you consciously chose.

 With my own children, I try to give them a positive, lifelong experience of the simple joys. My daughters love walks, and their amazement and delight at all of nature- be it forests, hills or parks, the changes in the seasons, or the frost on the ground, the snow on the streets and the first signs of spring- are wonderful to experience as a parent. My husband plays with them, looks after them and makes us all laugh with glee. He is muscular, and yet makes a mean dish of Potato Curry and rice. One day last week, I was rushing to get things done, cooking alu Parathas for the family dinner before I shooted off to work at midday. I had spent the morning with my daughter's school team, and after an emotional rollercoaster, I was finally home. As soon as Raj realized I was rushed, he started helping me- doing the dishes, minding the parathas and We go for walks as a family, collecting resinous gum off Cherry Tree bark in the Summer and visit the forest in all seasons, really!
 We try to teach them the values we both hold dear- like being honest and kind. Sometimes, we do fall off the path ourselves and we do make mistakes too. I 'react' but the good thing is that I apologise to them respectfully and explain that my 'reaction' was sudden, and just a re-action. That, given the chance, I would ensure that the next time we would both have learned our lesson. I try to talk to them and we interact and spend more and more quality time together as we do things like go fora walk, run, dance, play, sing, laugh. Daily chores like cooking and cleaning become interesting- and Shivangi and Rani help me if I request them to hand me something from the fridge or freezer, or peel garlic, potatoes, and I slice up vegetables and they wash them.... This 'quality' time is the only 'Viraasat' I can give them, as I am enriched by my interactions and learning from you and mummy... Memories these children will carry will shape their whole future lives, existence, emotions and the way they cope with life itself.

See, Dad, the way I look at it is life is a series of events. Some of these 'events'  are not in our control. A bit like a bus where we are a passenger, not the driver!! (The driver, I feel is God!) So, whether the journey takes half an hour of going through heavy traffic that slows it down to take one hour, its not for us to change/ control (unless we get off the bus physically, which is NOT an option!!) Or unless the driver says, look guys, the bus journey is to be terminated here, so would all of you people please get 'off' the bus here??! You can catch the next bus coming in, or ask for a refund and your time wasted is regrettable, but not in MY control either....!
So, like a passenger on THAT kind of bus, I can choose to watch the things flash by, smiling at the good, quirky memories/ places/ etc or choose to ignore things 'outside' the bus, just observe my fellow passengers, maybe chat with them/ respond if they start chatting with me!!? Or, like I do when 'alone' on a bus (i.e, when my kids are at school and not part of the journey with me), I think of them, pray for them, send loving vibes to my loved ones, or listen to music on my headphones!!
So many various 'reactions' to one same, recurrent journey (the cyclical rhythm of birth and death, that a soul undertakes in order to attain nirvaana.... (for example, if I go to town on the same bus on the same route for a meeting/appointment very regularly, I will still meet 'different' people, 'have'  the same old 'different' experiences each time.... but what remains constant each time??! It is the 'I' myself. my SELF.) The journey that the Self undertakes each time may be different, and , that 'experience' of the journey will depend on:
My frame of mind,
My 'inner' peace, and how low/high are the reserves at that moment,(like bhai and you often used to say, life a sinus wave- कभी ऊपर तो कभी नीचे।
आप सोच रहे होगे की मैं क्या बोलती जा रही हूँ।।?? (You must be wondering , "What is she talking about, exactly"??!)
Simply, that events, interactions, reactions from people may have affected how I feel on that day....
but when the journey is going on, or the destination (foreseen or unforeseen, as the case may be!) is near, one prepares to leave to bus. taking their 'I' ness with them, off the bus!
All that, then, remains to be said is a polite and heartfelt Thank You to your driver (God) for the journey...
Yesterday, early in the morning, I woke up and felt like 'talking' to God. After more than three restless, sleepless nights, I was physically and mentally drained and my silent musings had travelled, predictably, on the path. So beginning with " I'm OK, you're OK" (remember imok-youreok, Dad!!??) to, very briefly,I must say-" I'm not O.K, You're not O.K", I had finally reached the realisation that I'm (probably) not O.K, but my I (soul)  is O.K. I was ready to open my arms and say " I'm O.K, You're O.K"  He appeared to me and blessed me so that all my anxiety, worries, stress and fears were wiped out and I was left with a feeling of total peace and resignation to His will, As it says in the Lord's Prayer, worldwide-
...Thy will be done: on earth as it is in heaven.
These days, in my darkest hour, my spirit is revived by prayer and prayer alone.
One day, early this week, when my husband asked me, "What do you want??!" (he was talking about this marriage- whether we should be together/get a divorce... What would be my 'needs' financially, materialistically, emotionally etc)....I said, simply, that I want you to be happy, and our children to be happy. I said and I feel I 'want' nothing other than for the children to grow up 'whole' and that I would not like their innocence to be destroyed, faith to be lost or love to be divided. Because LOVE can never, EVER be DIVIDED... It can only be given and it only multiplies....
O.K, Daddy, I am going to get ready for my 0700 Hrs shift, as the kids sleep silently, contentedly with their Dad, or PAPA WOLF (from Alpha n Omega) as they call him!!
All is Well...
Love and hugs,
yours Ruch

Sunday, 2 September 2012

for SID, on turning 21...

Dear loved one,
Congratulations, you are 21 today...
Neither too Young, nor too Old,
Renewed, eager and promisingly bold,
Your progress so far has been our pride and joy,
You made us, and shaped us as only LIFE can...
You guided and moulded us as only LEARNING does...
You touched us and taught us as only EXPERIENCE can...

You brought us forth,yes, yet,
In a sweetly inexplicable way, you are our child...
The child of our dreams, born and raised in our hearts...
The child of our wonder as we learn from our chosen path in life,
On the cusp of Adulthood, you shine with promise...
May Glory and Grace be your forte,
Shine On, and Light up the lives around you, always...
As you lit mine, in '95!

God Be with you, always...!

-with all my love,

Ruchita Sodha
3495



Saturday, 18 August 2012

Maternity

At the ripe middle age of 36, I am a part-time carer, part-time teacher (at home! ) and full-time mother to my little girls, aged 8 yrs and 6 yrs old. I'm in relatively good health too, apart from a non-life-threatening illness that will be with me forever now. So, as I said, I feel fine, inspite of the complicated way the doctors are treating me which means I must never have any more children, ever. Not at all. (Due to medication I'm on, for life now...) This finality, this decisiveness has, suddenly, made me a tad bit broody.... I mean, if I had a choice, I'd have probably not tried for another child, but having the decision taken firmly out of my grasp has left me feeling cheated, somehow. You know the feeling a woman gets when she sees another woman holding a newborn baby close, the tiny form held protectively in her arms... or when a pregnant mother contemplates a supermarket buy, one hand absently stroking her baby-bump... Sometimes, when these things happen to me, I miss the times when my girls were babies and I'd be getting frowns to 'put-them-down' and couldn't resist a cuddle!! Well, they're still cuddly, but much bigger now (not to mention heavier!!)...and over these eight-odd years of being their mum, I've come to understand and comprehend a whole lot more than I did in the years before God chose to give me this unique gift; maternity... I think of the time when they were little, born one-by-one, as naturally as it is possible, given the NHS. I miss the memory of their tiny curled-up fists, the translucent nails, the little features and eyes tightly shut....
It may sound cheesy, or even over-the-top, but the truth is, I never really appreciated the whole concept of the difference between 'men' and 'women', before I met my husband. Yes, I was aware of the physical, mental, cultural and temperamental variations between the two sexes, but to me, atleast, being a girl seemed like one hell of a drawback! Physically, atleast until I hit puberty, I did pretty much all the things my brother (and sister) did! We played cricket, ran about, rode our bicycles and 'explored' our neighbourhood.... But one fine day, it all changed and my world imploded when I realised that girls n boys have a fundamental difference. With the onset of (unwelcome, uncomfortable and wholly undesirable) periods, I felt horrid and wished I had been a boy. So much for my pre-pubescent physical angst...Things began to change slightly after I finished school and it was time to choose a University course. I found out I couldn't go away, out-of-town to a university of my liking, to pursue my studies, Heck, I couldn't even take off for six months of apprenticeship training as part of my degree course! My gran always fretted and worried about me if I were running late to get home, my father, trusting yet troubled, sat silently in the living room, the light of a single paper lantern illuminating his solemn features. He'd try to read, or listen to the radio as he waited, trying and failing to hide his frown of worry when my 'time problem' studio dragged on and on... or when he sheer scale. It wasn't easy, because I could see how many worries, how much of anguish I was heaping on my family; my Dad, my Gran and I hated myself for being a girl... Those were the years when I used to feel 'wronged', somehow....
It wasn't until I first realized I was expecting a baby, that I fully grasped the beauty of the miracle that God has bestowed upon womankind! My first thought was of my own mother; and all of a sudden, I found myself sobbing from the sheer pain of losing her as a 17 year old, and the bitter-sweet joy of how happy she might have been, to know that her scrawny, barely surviving, fighter of a baby was now at the receiving-end of the very same miracle.. the one that God wrought, to bring me to life...
My second, and almost instantaneous thought was, I needed to tell my husband! I managed to tell him without too many tears, so he'd not worry there was something wrong, and we fell into each others' arms, sobbing (me) and grinning (him) at the same time.. As the enormity of the faint pink  lines sank into our psyche, we hugged for joy and smiled the widest smiles! We did another test, just to make sure, and when I came back out (of the loo) positively beaming, we looked at the strips together scarcely able to believe our eyes! It was like the most beautiful day of our lives was near; okay, maybe not near enough seeing that it was still three-quarters of a year away, but near enough that we could envision it....!
After a memorable pregnancy, involving lots of absurd cravings, some predictable, some unimaginable (Southern Fried Chicken followed by mars bars, anyone!!??) I had my first-born... but that's another story...!! This blog is about, amongst other things, the way my life has changed ever since I became a mother.....Just thought I'd make a point!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Devil's Food Cake

The image that caught my eye!


About four or five months ago, I was talking to Dad on Skype, and he mentioned that he'd love to try baking a cake, and asked me for a good chocolate cake recipe. At the time, knowing my Dad, his likes and dislikes and his attention to detail, I wanted it to be the best recipe I had laid eyes on (i.e, tasted). It had to be simple, with easily resourced ingredients, accurate measurements and not too much jiggery-pokery of the hand. Most importantly, I wanted to send him a recipe which I had tried, tested and baked myself.
Truthfully, the Devil's Food Cake recipe has been the most awesome chocolate cake we've ever eaten at home. I found it in an old, discarded magazine at work, and flicking throught it on my dinner break, I noticed the mouth-watering recipes for all things chocolate (Actually it was a collection of recipes of 'chocolatey' treats, included for their 'pulling-power', guaranteed to make Valentine's Day sweet!)
I was thinking of it for a whole day and night, before adopting the very same recipe for my chocolate-Loving Husband!! To try it out, I baked it for his birthday last week, and my daughters decorated it in their own OTT style (with huge chocolate stars and fifteen cherries instead of four or five!). So when the resultant cake surpassed my expectations in terms of simplicity of the process, time in the oven, level of difficulty and TASTED HEAVENLY besides, I decided to send it to Daddy too. Even better, I thought I'd share it on the blog, making sure it reaches all chocolate lovers, everywhere!

Dearest Daddy,
I hope you try this recipe and enjoy the resultant sweet-surprise! I know, some of the ingredients (cream of tartar, margarine, bicarbonate of soda etc) are not typical store-cupboard fare, but trust me, a little hunt in the supermarket, and you should have no trouble finding them there. Do make it if you like, and you will  be in for a shockingly good cake!
Happy Baking!
Love you,
Ruch

Devil's food cake
Makes 12 slices

For the sponge:
215 g (7 1/2 oz) plain flour
230 g (8 oz) caster sugar
1 1/4 level teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
40 g (1 1/2 oz) cocoa powder
140 g (5oz) soft margarine ( I used STORK vegetable fat for pastries/cakes etc with great results)
240 ml (8 1/2 fll.oz) milk
1 sp vanilla essence
2 medium eggs

For the chocolate icing:
115g (4oz) soft margarine
40 g(1 1/2 oz) cocoa powder
350 g (12 oz) icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
3-4 tablespoons milk
Shards of chocolate and raspberries for decoration
(Cadbury's Flake, split, cut or chopped will do nicely too!) See- Cadbury's Flake

To make the sponge:
  • Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.
  • Grease and line (with baking parchment paper or simply use butter paper) two 20 cm (8 inch) round cake tins.
  • Sift together the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar, and cocoa powder into a large mixing bowl.
  • Add the margarne, milk and vanilla essence and then mix by hand until smooth.
  • Add the eggs and beat for one minute with an electric hand-held mixer. It is important not to over-beat the mixture.
  • Pour into the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes.
  • After the cake has risen well, (I always have to tweak the timing to suit my temperamental oven!) remove it from the oven and let it cool in the tins for 10-15 minutes. Thereafter, remove it from the tins and cool on a wire rack or the wire grille of the oven before icing it.
To make the chocolate icing:
  • Cream the margarine until light and fluffy in a mixing bowl.
  • Add the sifted cocoa powder and icing sugar to the creamed margarine and beat.
  • Blend in the vanilla essence and milk until the icing is smooth.
  • Use the icing to sandwich between the two sponge layers then smooth it all over the cake.
  • Decorate with the chocolate flakes and raspberries.  
ENJOY!!!!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Dearest Bhai...

My Dearest Digvijay,

For those first, early childhood memories,
of playing, running and the bedtimes with Ba and di's stories,
from the time we started going to school,
to the time you became teenaged and cool,
and went away to the NAVAC and did us all proud!!

From your little' adidas T-shirt n 'ganju-patel-picture' days,
from your patience and sportiness as you taught me to bat, catch and bowl,
when you played Cricket with Gopu and the gang,
for the way you taught me to ride a bike and climb trees,
the way you stayed with me always,
whether in person or in essence,
...I had attached myself to you with an invisible umbilical...

For my fondest memory of you looking in on me,
from the window grilles of our Yelahanka home,
When I was, futilely trying to memorize the times tables' tome,

For the comical things you did to distract and prevent Dad from dhaap-ing me,
and the way you patiently heard me when I'd "let it all out",
from your belief and faith in my abilities, and your amazing acceptance of me just the way I am.

For your untiring encouragement and  honest judgement whenever I needed guidance and another opinion,
for allaying my fears,
for the million ways you became my best friend in life,
and even now, ARE, helping me survive,

from the sum-of-my-parts,
from the depths of my heart,
with every prayer I say,
your name, your happiness and joys are uppermost in every way,

Today being the one day I never forget to thank the Lord for giving me a brother such as you,
I am ever so sorry I won't be there in person,
nor even the significant Rakhi that always reached you on time... but this year is more poignant to me than all our past Rakshabandhan's put together,
simply because you have been here with me on so many occasions in the last year, in my life, in my heart and as an answer to all my self-doubts and worries, pain and suffering...
There is no other, quite like you in this universe, because no one else is in my place and has been redeemed by your love...

For you, and your love, my brother,
I am deeply grateful to the Lord!

HAPPY RAKSHABANDHAN...
yours,
Ruch


P.S- Rakshabandhan (रक्षाबंधन ) is a Hindu Festival, celebrated on the full-moon night or poornima of the month of Shravana, a holy and auspicious month in the Hindu Calendar. Raksha means protection and bandhan means a tie or a relationship. Essentially, this festival signifies the bond of love between a brother and his sister, with the sister tying the Rakhi on the righ-hand wrist of her brother, and praying for his well-being and happiness, his life and his success. The brother, in turn, vows to protect his sister for life.
Legend goes that the widowed Rajput queen of Chittor, Rani Karnavati, sent a rakhi to the Moghul emperor Humayun, seeking his help, when her subjects, her life and her honour were at stake. Her plea was answered and Emperor Humayun aided and protected her land and person from the attackers, bringing the Rakhi and its notable significance home...
This is the tie of love and hope, or prayers and trust, or sacrifice and valour, striking a chord that resonates in all our hearts, whether we are hindu, muslim, or Sikhs, whether we are brothers and sister by blood or choice, near or afar, together or apart.... On this one day, every sister prays for her brother and thanks the Lord for keeping him safe and happy.



Sunday, 17 June 2012

My Numero Uno Man!!

A dashing, heart-stopping smile, tall and lanky in his Air Force Officer's Uniform, my Dad has always been an easy-going guy!! He grew up in Delhi, aspired to be an Architect, became an Engineer and joined the Indian Air force in his twenties. He worked hard, treated his colleagues and subordinates with equal respect and regarded good values and a sound character above rank and file, status and riches. He still lives by the same tenets, and inspires me everyday. Okay, let me tell you something about my Dad. Having grown up as an only son with  three younger sisters, under the watchful gaze of a very principled man, (my grandfather, Shri Halubha Sodha aka Bapuji) Dad always, instinctively, knew right from wrong, and followed Bapuji's word to  the letter. ( See post  the humane divine for more...)

Dad has always been quiet, and never talks too much. Only now, as we have grown up and sometimes get a chance to converse with him and share our concerns, problems, dilemmas and joys with him does he talk about what he and Mum, as young parents and as a couple, went through. They were always each other's best friend! He was immensely proud of her PhD in Sanskrit, she was always tremendously graceful and supportive of him and stood by him, steadfast and strong... Together, they are my Rock of Gibraltar, if you will...! They shared a love of music, of reading and always made times out as a family special. Even if he had to ride over on his trusty Bajaj scooter twice, to ferry our family of six to the venue, he never complained! They both had worked on their marriage and its wheels spun smoothly and noiselessly, making light of the miles they traversed...

His natural simplicity was not evident to me until I hit my late teens. Okay, so, on many occasions, he laughed with us and showed us how do do something, and often surprised me the most when I would be ready to cringe expecting a good-old dhaap, but just got told I should 'get lost'!! (Yeah, I'd scuttle away, relieved and yet, terribly ashamed. This 'तखलिया' from Dad served two purposes- it gave me time to think back on the incident and introspect, and gave him time to 'cool off'!)

 If we got ranked 5th in class at school, he'd joke that someone else should get the chance to stand first, sometimes and always maintained that being in the band of average students was good, as long as we did our best and never cheated at tests. "Ask an adult for guidance if you're stuck and do not understand something..." , he would say. There was no pressure to perform well at school, no pushing us to do drama, dance or drawing... We could do what we liked, so long as we were mindful of others' feelings and never hurt anyone (including ourselves) in the process! So we learned to ride our bikes and climb trees, and also passed on the dubious skills to our cousin Parth, our house-hold help's daughters Anju and Mita...! We made pots and pans from mud dug up from the garden and even baked it in a make-shift kiln fire (imagine the horror on the HSE's face) in the very same garden, on the porch... 

But I digress...! This post is not about the fun I had as a kid, its about my Father! That he is my ideal man is an understatement- He is the only man - apart from my husband and my brother- who invokes love and respect from me in equal measure! He is kind, he is a surviour and someone who lives a simple, self-sufficient life... Since I lost my mother to Cancer 17 years ago, He's been both a father and a mother to me. In the year after mom passed away, my sister got married and my brother joined the Indian Naval Academy. Now there were only Ba, Dad and I left at home... We grieved, we learned to smile again, and our silences became a voice too... We would all sit and listen to the radio- (Vividh bharti-at 2100 broadcasted a programme called bhooli-bisri yaadein that we listened to, then went to sleep)... This time together was precious, and still teaches me a thing or two about parenting, as I watch my own daughters grow. I share my difficulties with him, both personal and general, and his kindness and wisdom shines through. He is my father, my guru, and my God, he is inspiring, loving and very much loved back!
Dad, if you're reading this, accept my love and pranams and do NOT be self effacing (as you often are) and say "arre, Ruch...!" This Ruch is here, today the way I am, the person I am, because of you...chalo, अब बच्चियों  को उठाने का समय हो गया है! Sunday है, पर मुझे काम पर जाना है!


Dad and Rani in the summer of 2010.


Saturday, 9 June 2012

CYCLETTA 2012: Biking for STROKE CARE.

What does it take, to turn my steps into soaring flight,
what excitement banishes my sleep in the night!? 
what is it that makes me alive,
What do I crave, is it company, is it solitude,
is it winning the battle against my ineptitude??
is it peace within and calm without,
..... -It is self motivated discovery and working within reasonable, honest means for the common good of all...

CYCLETTA LOG:
 I have always loved riding my bike from the first time I pedalled off at the age of six fully in control after many days' struggles, scraped knees and elbows and crashes. As my joyous sister and friends cheered me from behind, and as the wind whipped through my hair, I felt as if I were flying!! Many childhood afternoons were spent in the summer heat of North India, my brother and I pushing each other on the bike, in turns, and running up and sitting down on the stainless steel 'carrier', sending the biker and bike wobbling precariously for a few uncertain moments!!
My favourite childhood memories are all about family trips and outings to zoological parks, the Rose Garden, Rock Garden and Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh, India. As an adult, I travelled widely, mostly by myself, and a bike became my transport of choice!! Buses, Scooters and Trains came to be relied on, when the journey demanded it, but my trusty bike was always my favourite vaahan!
From the time i first read about Cycletta last June, in the local paper, I was hoping to be one of the lucky ten from Luton and Dunstable chosen to ride hundreds of other women, fund-raising on a hair-raising adventure!!!
This year, on 13th May 2012 at the Cycletta Bedfordshire event, God once again gave me the close-to-home opportunity to be part of something magical and magnificent!!

It was a beautiful summer's day in Luton, U.K, on the 13th of May. I was full of anticipation and last-minute jitters about how I would feel post-ride,after cycling for 40 Kms.... Outwardly, I chatted easily with Brian, as we drove to the venue with my bike in his taxi. Brian is our friend, neighbour and count-on-me gentleman and he has always helped us as a family whether it is to drive someone to or from London Heathrow airport. He knows the routes and traffic so well that we were there in about twenty minutes! After helping me place my bike of terra firma, we shook hands as he cheerily waved goodbye and  wished me luck for my ride and fundraising!
After obtaining my starting pack and chip, I made my way down to the sidelines, where scores of women, some with their families, some with partners and parents, put on their gear and began to go through their paces, warming up for the ride. I still had about 50 minutes till my start time, so I self-consciously fumbled with pinning my rider's number on my back, (incredibly difficult without anyone to help, mind you!) and attaching my timing-chip to the handlebars. Having dine Cycletta 2011 at Whipsnade, ZSL London, last year, I was familiar with it all and there was an easy atmosphere with peppy music, a last-minute breakfast-buttie and energy drinks' available to all riders. Their families were settling down on camping chairs, car hoods, or simply on the grassy verge (with push-chairs for toddlers and babies) with lots of activities for kids to engage in, as they would be waiting eagerly for their mum's and sisters to make it back across the finish line later in the day! One thing I love about British families is how beautifully they turn every outing into something special and relaxed, fun for all and full of joy! Its this get-up-and-go attitude that I absolutely loved and have been taking my kids out on lots of trips with my friend and her young son.
That day, however, I missed my two little girls a lot and reminded myself that Raj would be coming to see  me at midday with the kids too!
Feelin' the BUZZ!!  Scores of ladies at the start of the ride!
The Cycletta event was spectacular, with the scenic, breathtakingly beautiful estate at the Woburn Abbey grounds in Bedfordshire providing the perfect, Zen-like experience that made me and my bike, essentially, one!! The ride began with a light breeze and sunshine coaxing scores of Deer and Elk out into the open grounds near the trees, by the lakes and waterholes and under the massive age-old trees. I found myself having to decide between keeping my eyes on the ride or sneaking a look at the beautiful sights all around us. This time around, there were no steep gradients like last year, (Cycletta 2011, Bedfordshire riders will recollect Bison Hill with a smile!!)
Sarah B and I after the finish!!

I loved the weather and enjoyed the sunshine on the day!

After the ride (which, amazingly enough, seemed to seem to take much less time this time around!) and the exhilaration of crossing the finish line, I met my friend Sarah B, who rode with me last year too. She is a keen cyclist and had achieved her aim of finishing the ride within two hours. ( I rode at a very leisurely pace and being the kind of love-the-journey person that I am, took about 2.5 Hrs to finish my ride!)


The long, winding road!!

 Shivangi and I after the ride. (Photo by Rani)
 My fund-raising began at the time of my decision to join the event at Woburn, and I researched Stroke Awareness sites recommended by my senior colleagues and from info on posters at work. A chat with my Hospital fundraising Manager, a few clicks and 'paste's with a mouse and I had set up my page, ready to roll!! Sarah Newby, the Fundraising Team Manager has recently participated in the London Marathon 2012, and is a huge inspiraiton! Since I work on the Stroke Unit at the L & D Hospital, thinking about my patients and their well-being has become second nature to me. After 8.5 yerars with  the Stroke Team of dedicated nurses, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists and Doctors, I wanted to do something for the team by spreading stroke awareness and fund-raiser from my bike ride and sale! Over the two days of fundraising at work, I managed to raise £122.40 in total, and its still trickling in!!

Sarah and I with a male staff member at the hospital who just happened to be there!!

Day 2: display of the fundraising stuff donated by Raj.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

BOY


I chanced upon a splendid film tonight, whilst online. 
It is moving, inspirational and made me weep too... But it is not a sad film, 
or a soppy one, 
it is truly, simply, OUTSTANDING....
'BOY, written by British Airways Great Britons winner Prasanna Puwanarajah is a moving short film starring actor Timothy Spall and was inspired by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
I watched it, and cried... yet, instantly felt inspired and here is what I then wrote:


Because LOVE has no language,
no colour, nor creed,
no barriers,
no limits,
and no place for greed,

because Love never speaks
yet the conversations flow,
as you give more you get more,
and so, watch it grow,

because love only gives of itself forever more,
for all that you are, 
and all you wish for...
it makes life's sweet pleasures and pain all alike,
as I watch a loving Father take off on a bike,
my eyes brimming over, I weep for his loss,
to have and to love then helplessly watch...

If time could be moulded, or changed in some way,
just bring back the lost Son,
Oh Lord, I would say...

-by Ruchita- 22:06- 17-04-2012
A truly inspiring film....

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Stars on Earth

When a child is born, 
the family rejoices, 
when someone you love dies, 
you shed tears of sorrow at the loss of their form,
Is it not true, that we celebrate Christmas and Easter with the same joy??!
When one is the birth and the other is the resurrection of Christ in our hearts, surely the soul's journey is beyond birth and death??!  
     -this is something I wrote (on Good Friday)

As a Child, my ideal was my mother. I loved and admired her with my whole being, basking in the sunshine of the Love she and Daddy shared with each other and our entire family. As I was growing up, my lifelong ambition was to emulate her; her grace, her silence, her wisdom. All I wanted to do was be a mother like her, to my future kids, if God saw it fit that I have them. Losing mummy to Cancer was the hardest, most painful experience of our lives. but as a family, we slowly picked ourselves up. Webecame closer, remembered her Values and all that she stood for. Justice, Equality, Love, Truth, her dedication to her students at the College...I Thank God, today, for the brief time we were fortunate to have her. to love her. She may not be with me physically, and I miss her dearly. I cry bitterly, everytime Life is a struggle, a question, a bitter-sweet pain.... Then I remember what she used to say, do and wrote. I turn to my father, my brother and sister- talk to them if I can, or think about them.... I feel my pain melting away. I thank the Lord for life. All of Life. In times like these, these lines By Gibran are my inspiration, as he wrote-

Kahlil Gibran's THE PROPHET. 

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

(Stars on Earth)
I remember crying my eyes out, when I saw the film Taare Zameen Par, (dubbed version here, in English, and Spanish) for the first time (and each time since..) The whole film is really close to my heart. Maybe because it reminds me of my mother- Ma.... Maybe because my sweetest memories of it relate to my little girl, then just four years old, singing 'taare zameen par' in her little voice a few years ago...She and I both loved the song right from the first time we heard it, and I waited and waited for the film to release on TV. On another level, as a mother of a child with complex difficulties which are yet to be isolated or diagnosed for certain, (A Special Daughter) I can relate to the emotions depicted in the film. It is a sensitive and heartfelt portrayal of a child's world from his own and an adult's perspective... My little girl is now nearly eight and the film struck a chord within my heart.
It is about a unique, lovely little boy Ishaan (Ishaan's World.) Struggling with his learning difficulties, he now faces the trauma of losing all his family too. The boarding school is no different from most other mainstream schools and Ishaan goes into a shell. One day, a new Art Teacher bursts into class and inspires the kids to imagine, dream and let themselves go!! All the children respond to his liveliness with enthusiasm, except Ishaan. The teacher tries to find out WHY. He sees the child's difficulties, helps him overcome them with love and attention and sheer untiring effort and eventually rescues him from the cesspool of isolation. He blossoms under the specialist, untiring tuition of the teacher and consolidates his strengths. That he also finds a way to negotiate his life and sift through his difficulties, is a credit to his spirit and the teacher's efforts.
When I first saw the film, I was shedding tears not only for the little boy in the story, but also for my little girl, my self and all those who suffer silently as the world goes on around them, unaware that they are struggling to make sense of it...
My little girl loves sand, water and running around the park, sitting on the grass and having a picnic.... So I take her outdoors as often as I can, watching her, one with nature. She may not be ready to write, may find it hard to read, sometimes, but one thing that is certain is her evolution from a child to a little girl has been going on since she was born...She is becoming more aware of herself, her surroundings, people, their reactions and their likes and dislikes. While she sees all this, she also 'files away' the 'right' and 'wrong' things she may have done in the past. She is more sociable, more joyous and much more interactive...!
As things have a way of unfolding, I have accepted the fact that, she will, in time be who she is meant to be. That 'being' is unique; it will not, and should not be expected to be ruled by others' ,idea,  hopes or expectations of her. She is a free-spirit as are all children- a bird, a flower, a soul. She came from God and He alone will mould her into her one true form...
We, her parents, were just the means to bring her forth into this world; what she is is beyond birth and death, age and life, words and silence... For this realization, Lord, I thank thee, and pray that thee remind me, each moment of what I must do is nurture her, nourish her and love her for who she is and what she is 'meant to be'..

Monday, 12 March 2012

Look out: 'Cyclist Ahead' !!

Lessons a 'cycling' accident taught me in the past week, and lessons my 'intentional' mother-hood teaches me everyday. As I draw my learning from the accident and my innate strength from the other, I realised a few lessons of my own.

I got hit by a car as I cycled to work last week....
Okay, before all you lovely people do the whole collective "sharp intake of breath","dilated pupils"thing,
 Just remember, I'm still here, typing this....so....."
"Exactly...!!"
"See??! I'm fine: f-i-n-e..!"
I had a hi-visibility (fluorescent) orange vest on as it was night-time, and my bike lights flashed too, so I am perplexed- how did she NOT see me??  I guess the rain might have been responsible for the driver of the car, a dark reddish Saloon, missing me on  the road...
She later told me she was concentrating more on the car behind me, as it was raining...which is exactly my point...what would happen if She were faster, or There was a truck just next to me on a busier road than the one we were on...Not a 'happy ending' if you see what I mean...

Now, I'm a careful cyclist, and before I pedal off, I make sure that I'm clear to go first, (checking  I have the 'right of way', following the road rules, etc etc). On that particular T junction, just a few roads away from work, I was right to ride on, and the car was waiting for me to pass, and indicated as much. No sooner had I proceeded to cycle on, however, that I saw the car change gears, hit the pedal, and I felt the sudden, adrenalin rush wash over me as I got hit on the left rear wheel and lost balance. I managed to regain my footing, and saved myself a tumble, as a string of  the choicest expletives sprang to my mind. I pulled my bike closer to the edge or the road, and tried to think back to see if I had, after all, been wrong to ride on somehow, even as I realised I was perfectly justified in doing so. A man who had been walking on the pavement rushed up and asked me if I was allright. The driver herself camr hurrying over, and I saw she was almost in tears. In my eagerness to be on my way to work, and reassure her that I was fine, I forgot to check my bike in general and the rear-wheel in particular, which sad to say, she effectively totalled. Raj tried to fix it as best he could, but my lack of foresight and the car-rider's relief at being waved away, has left me with a huge bill to pay to fix my poor bike. Besides, Cycletta 2012 at Woburn, Bedfordshire, is coming up in a couple of months and I need her in ship-shape form for the event..

Cycletta 2011: At the finish line with supporters and my Sister-in-Law

A lesson to me for future reference- Look at the bike as another would look at a car. Talking to my husband the day after the hit and my sister-in-Law, Prachi yesterday made me realise what a colt I've been.I should have taken the woman's number, at the very least...
In any case, I slept off my fatigue after my night shifts at work over that weekend by lying on the sofa after the kids were fed and washed, and hubby was off to work with his packed lunch that I had made for him. When the kids came up to me and snuggled nearer....I invariably let out a sigh of peace...It is from them and their child-like innocence that I draw my resilience, stay grounded and feel happy. When I feel 'down' or 'out-of-sorts', I remind myself of Rani and Shivangi singing, 'Chin-up' from CHARLOTTE'S WEB, and its an instantly uplifting feeling, knowing that I'll always have my little girls in my life...thank you God, for this gift you have bestowed on me, these children of mine- the most beautiful of gifts, ever!! When they caress me with their little hands, and ask me to put my big head on their little shoulders as I so often to to them, I see what 'LIFE COMING FULL-CIRCLE' is all about, really...

Their love is the essence of my Life....
It is full of selfless caring and steadfast devotion...
when trying times arise, it rises to the occasion,
it emerges, unscathed from the fires and trumps every test,
it is the good and pure inside,
 it is our grit, our guts, our very best,
it is the sum of our parts, it is you, God in our hearts,
it is our Soul, our humanity, our essential being..
It is what we live by,
what we live for,
and what we live through life, learning to do...
LOVE.

Angels in disguise on Halloween 

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Humane - Divine..

Do you believe you are human...?! Do you know if you really are?? What if I tell you, that I BELIEVE in something different... would that make me less human? ...Or perhaps, more arrogant, if I were to tell you what I truly believe in....
Let me explain...

I have been thinking a lot, for almost all my life, but never really committed it to paper- or keyboard, as the case may be- before. Sometimes, my thought process was so effervescent, like bubbles in a glass of Coke... barely there, and so very volatile, they never were meant for anything anyway... never amounting to anything more, just there for the flavour, if you see what I mean!??
This made me feel as if I should give my thoughts time to mature... like a fine wine; which gains its flavour, its age in itself, its true worth... (pardon me for resorting to coke and wine; I did not do this deliberately and my thoughts are not along those lines, I assure you!)
so, perhaps, now is the right time to elaborate.
...to write, and be read...
...to speak and be heard...
...to believe and be told that it is not baseless to believe in oneself...

If I look at my parents, and the values they've always stood for, I feel proud and confident of their inherent virtue, I feel humble...like a speck of cloud in the azure, expansive skies above; small, and yet larger-than-life; sure of my forefathers' immortality.
Not in form,
not even in words,
but as a school of thought that they came from.
This belief, this surety stems from the profound wisdom, the unshakable greatness of both my grandfathers, the simplicity and yet, the hard-working stock of my grandmothers, who, by performing their worldly duties and standing by their husbands so steadfastly, denoted to me all that was good and right in the world in those days.
When marriages were, truly, made in Heaven, and facilitated, nay, merely formalised by our Elders...
When the Marital vows were strong and robust, when the husband worked hard and provided for his family not only in terms of where their next meal came, but also how, in a home where he was just a presence that was 'felt' rather than 'seen'; 'experienced' and not so often 'heard' it was his principles that flowed in the veins of his progeny.
When the youngsters of the family knew, by the way their mothers spoke of their fathers, not taking their name...just by a whisper of a reference, by the sight of a familiar set of shoes in the place he always left them, by the way a window that was always half-open so she could know he had arrived...from the echo of his footfall...from the sound of the bicycle, scooter or car in the gully below... that HE was home..., that he was, indeed, a palpable a presence in his home. Its spirit, its soul its life-breath.
My Paternal Grandfather,Shri Halubha Shivubha Sodha, was just such a patriarch. He was always referred to as 'Bapuji' by all of us, He was straightforward, a man of high principles, and a low voice. He never did need to raise it, really. his mere presence commanded respect and admiration. All his children looked up to him, and strove to make him proud...
The reverence, the overpowering, overwhelming affection he stirred in his children's hearts...was expressed in the way they cast down their eyes when he was in the same place as them. The seldom spoke at him, but always listened, rapt, to his words, even though, more often than not, youth, age and irreverent recklessness gave free rein to the dreams and desires of their closest friends.
One of the most beautiful anecdotes my father shared with us, many moons ago, was the time when, having returned late in the evening from a movie he went for, with a friend, my father was told by Ba, my gran, that Bapuji was home,
"બાપુજી આવી ગયા છે..મેં કઈ દીધું છે, અજય ના ઘરે ગયો છે."
(She had told Bapuji, when he inquired, that Dad had gone out to a friend's place.)
 Later, when Bapuji asked Dad where he'd been, he looked into his father's eyes and said" I was out with Ajay, to see a film"... At this, Bapuji looked up at Ba....I can only imagine the pride and happiness he felt for his son then. They briefly conversed about what film that was (a WW-II film, if I recollect, something along the lines of those days' epic sagas from Hollywood) and both father and son shared a deeper understanding of each others' true nature.
There are many more incidents, both big and small, that have shaped the lives and thoughts of my father and mother in their lifetime.
So, you see, this is the kind of value-system I owe my existence to. I'm humbled by their solid morals and take immense pride in this heritage of Truth and Respect...

Who am I and what is the purpose of life?
This is a question we all might sometimes ask ourselves at some point in our lives. I often ask myself..and wonder...
Mystics say it takes us a lifetime (and beyond) to find the answer..

I believe, as surely as I believe in God, that, at the time of birth, each and every child is unaware of "I" and immersed in the fluid, all-pervading Godliness.... of itself. Maybe, that is the reason why all babies, at the time of birh have their eyes tightly shut, clenched fists rigid and unrelenting, as if holding on to Him... Their one-ness from God is reflected in the cry at birth, in the lament of a torturous human existence, as if removed from the embrace of a loving mother...
since I became a mother I marvel at the mechanics of the Universe- all the more mysterious, altogether  more sublime...
Mother-hood and miracles go hand-in-hand. Each new day is different...and yet, the same. In the incessant cycle of life we come, grow, go and leave behind us a legacy of memories, memoirs and mementoes. Every Child is divine, at birth; it is we who make them humans....It is only appropriate that we etrive to impart good values to them, so that they may become better human beings tomorrow...
This life, given us by our parents...Bestowed in grace and a gift, if you will, from God Himself...It is meaningful and useful only if we live up to our essence- divinity, and our extent- humanity...

Thursday, 1 March 2012

On World book Day, love to my awesome twosome!

Reading shapes the mind, sharpens the intellect, broadens the horizons and fires the imagination of everyone who plunges into an ocean of words and typescript...
Whether we swim, paddle or float; skim the surface or go deep-sea diving is up to us...it is, (to my mind) in every manner imaginable, an immensely rewarding experience!

As a busy mum plus night-shift worker, I get an occasional rare moment to snuggle my girls into bed and have a good read with them. On WORLD BOOK DAY, today, I reflect on the lovely books we've shared together over the years and how they've caught the bug, so to speak, from a mum who reads on her shift breaks at night, and eats her dinner with her 'current read' in front!!


Today, as Rani plays 'dress up' as a Book Character at School and Shivangi tries to write her own autobiography for her Year 3 Learning Log, I wondered what other books lie undiscovered out there, and what are the kinds of books kids this age enjoy!! Over the years since they were toddlers, we've done 'tell me a story' kind of stories; the sort of tales my grandma used to tell us at bedtime. We've shared pop-up books, second-generation books , such as When Daddy Was A Little Boy (by Alexander Ruskin, impeccably preserved by my sister, Keya didi) books by Enid Blyton, (Thirteen O'Clock tales borrowed from School), and library books by Julia Donaldson, (her Room on the Broom is a great love of ours) which they both were thrilled with!

Often on Saturdays, when "...Daddy's at work", we trot to the local library and request our favourites. Once there, I browse while they share books, jokes and giggle conspiratorially, trying to decide on the ones to take back. We pick up Harry Potter and arms-full of Julia Donaldson and its a heart-warming sight when the girls insist on putting 'their' selections in their own backpacks, carrying them home. We often manage a little tumble in the park on our route back...(all the better to tire them with, my dears..Ha!Ha!HA!!)

But, I digress...I'm try to get them something to read for the weekend and its a special feeling for me with my love of books. Having ritualised bath-time, making sure they are, finally, off to bed, we read something together; or rather, I read to them (I get them to lie down, close their eyes and imagine the story) - it helps them nod off and go drifting along to la la land!!

My Shivangi has SN which makes it hard for her to read right off the bat, but she's amazing with her memory and remembers stories word for word!!! I've read the Jungle Books and we've done the audio version for Shivangi too way back when she was four which she still loves. she's quite good at doing the different voices as Tabaqui, Akela or Baloo one moment and 'gruff and grisly' Sher-Khan the next...!

As a kid, I read (and loved) Kipling, Mark Twain and Enid Blyton...when on one hand, The Famous five made me wonder what Bacon and Ham were and on the other, Malory towers romanticised Boarding Schools for years to come! Jane Austen and Little Women (in my teenage years)..were always a biggie for me, as was Jo, one of its principal characters...

Amongst Indian and other South-east Asian writers, I like Arundhati Roy's God of small things, and Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Sunsets, and The Kite Runner..but if I have to name my all-time favourite Indian writer, it has to be Munshi Premchand, for his कफ़न, दो बैलों की कथा and ईदगाह I ...R.K Narayan with his Guide and Kalidasa, that Sanskrit poet who was masterful in his imagination...(I can still recollect my mother translating the fragile, quivering, passionately imaginative and beautiful prose for my father, from Sanskrit (the ancient text of our Hindu scriptures) that Kalidasa wrote in, to hindi or gujarati...)
The way she described the smile on Uma's (goddess Parvati, before she and Shiva were united) countenance as she beheld Lord Shiva in his samadhi or narrated the writer imploring a rain-bearing cloud to carry a message to his beloved has stayed with me....made me feel fortunate beyond description, to be her daughter....

Books always were a big part of my upbringing; memories.... of Dad reading Somerset Maugham, aloud, to mum when the rains poured down, as they nursed cups of hot, steaming chai...or my Sister, Keya didi reading एक था छोटा सिपाही to us at bedtime on a cold winter's night....abound in my psyche.
On childhood holidays in Ahmedabad, India, Pappaji's( our maternal grandfather) study would be lined with whole walls of bookshelves where, amongst the thickly bound Law Journals, one could always find The Complete Works Of Shakespeare with its spine of crimson leather etched in letters of Gold..
With the ceiling fan whirring overhead, the insides of the study cooled by heavy curtains, and the outside shaded by a long, wide verandah, I must have spent many afternoons reading those books, moving my fingers over the faintly yellowed pages... The books looked well kept, neatly stacked and dusted daily, and as I pulled one off the shelf, I asked myself if my Nanaji thought I and the others (some of us barely toddlers when he passed away) would someday read the words he wrote into the margins of books on Philosophy, poetry and World Religion.The ink, cobalt blue and bright to begin with is now almost dully faint, but the awe I feel for the man who read so widely, from the Old Testament to Homer's Odyssey is still alive.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Leap of Faith...

As surely as if I had been nudged awake, I wake up and notice that I'd (again) nodded off on the sofa... It seems to have become a regular occurrence, since Mum (in-Law) went to India and I'm in-charge of my days (and nights!). After over two years of doing night shifts, I've hopelessly messed my sleeping pattern. Now, I just get some shut-eye for about three-four hours at a time, and then "..O O.." my peepers just fly open...
"Well today is Saturday, so there's no need to jump into the shower", I reminded myself, for beginning the (school-related) daily dash..


As the birds twitter outside, and the day breaks over the world (well, this part of the world, at-least), all I contemplate is whether to go running or biking, wake up the kids at eight or nine, and whether its better to let them wake up naturally... Idly, I reached out for my Samsung Notebook, which was on power-saving mode, with the favourites still open, earphones still plugged into my ears... I get up, brush my teeth, freshen up and sit down again, nestled comfortably under Raj's favourite downy, fleece white n blue blanket and start reading and writing- preparing to commit to memory the day that was...


It was the culmination of a long two weeks' wait, yesterday. I visited a School which I'm hoping, my daughter will soon join, flourishing in the care she'll receive there. This is not to say that her current School is inadequate;  it is, simply put, time to move on into the best environment for her today. Yes, it is a Special Needs school, and yes, my child, although as yet undiagnosed, is known to have significantly specific difficulties with her Gross and fine Motor Skills, Social Communication, Language (both expressive and receptive, i.e-in terms of speaking and understanding) and Proprioception and Behaviour...


In my understanding of the broad scope of the term ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), I suspect, as does her paediatrician, (although she's reluctant to put it in as an official diagnosis as yet), that my child is somewhere on the AS. She believes that Shivangi may, in future, present with a Dyslexic profile, and is, at present, struggling with her gross and fine motor skills and bi-lateral coordination (which explains her difficulty in writing, reading, eating etc).To the jargon-proficient this might sound easy enough, yet to those like me who seek to simplify things, especially when they are being used to describing my own child, it is a case of unscrambling the 'lingo' to get to the bottom of the intent. 


I arrived at the school with my children's school SENCO and Family Worker- a dear Lady and a genuinely warm person named Mrs Wendy Austin. The fact that Wendy offered to drive me there with them, instead of me taking a bus route into town and finding my own way to the school, was extremely sweet of her...(particularly because my 'time-window' was too narrow; school starts at 0845 and from the kids' school to the new school, a bus would have taken me atleast an hour....). As we reached the school and disembarked, i looked around the silent, peaceful grounds which were nestled along the edge of a hill. Vast grounds overlooked the valley beyond where the city lay, shrouded in the morning mist. The school was situated on a lovely hill-top with a panoramic view of the whole city below. I  looked around and not only liked what I saw, but also felt a peaceful feeling in my heart, that told me my baby would be really happy if she could play, learn, laugh and explore in this kind of an environment...! We walked in through the quiet reception, and waited to see the Headteacher, who emerged from her office to greet us with a lovely smile. We introduced ourselves and sat down and the SENCO told her about my reason for visiting. she asked me if I wanted to know something about the school, look around and walk through it with her, visiting classes, meeting children and teachers in classrooms and see how I felt?! I nodded, and then I tried to take-in and absorb what the headteacher said about the way the classes were run and the curriculum managed, around the school.


On my tour of the school, It looked truly special, from the relaxed, calm atmosphere, to the masterful works of art displayed on the walls- from a huge canvas- oil paints in all the primary colours splashed across, to mind-blowing effect, (as my 'design-orientated' eyes looked for abstract patterns and shapes) to a masterfully painted 'spider-man' like abstract one, done by a seven year old boy in ten odd minutes (The writing on the mount, in the frame told me as much)...In the small groups of children, in the teachers' interacting with two-three students in groups as they did their lesson-related activities and in the massive grounds, edged by tall trees, overlooking the city below beyond the fence, I could easily picture my child feeling more calm, participating,in, and more importantly, feeling good about the things the other children were doing.


Just as some plants need more attention and care to grow, whilst others thrive with the odd dash from a watering can, and grow like a weed, it is my belief as a mother, that some children need more support than others to realise their potential. These are the children who, by God's will or grace; call it what you will, are differently-able in life... These children are the chosen ones, the one thrown a 'challenge'  by God, to see how the rest of us 'lesser' mortals cope!! As a mother of a child with a difficulty, it is extremely hard to keep things in perspective sometimes. Others can get away with blaming her behaviour on her stubbornness, her naughtiness or her attitude on her behaviour; I can begin to make sense of it and react in the right way only by remembering she is not deliberately doing this...She is trying, her damned best to make head or tail of the world as she sees it. As her mother, I know she mimics speech, copies phrases, imitates reactions and mirrors affection. She smiles; a LOT...! She is affectionate, lovable and very closely connected with her 'emotional' self. She feels remorse, but vents her feelings like a volcano, she feels tidal waves of love and wants to hug us and others, but is sometimes so strong in her holding of people, they feel stifled. Then, their reaction hurts her feelings and she bursts into tears and screams out at us all... she can make me smile, just by virtue of me thinking of her! She can also make people laugh out loud; she has a terrific sense of humour and can even laugh at herself. 



For me, this is a massive Leap of Faith, across the chasm of my near and dear ones' doubts, aspersions, blame and guilt. I tried to reason, resolve and involve them, sharing the reports, the schedule of meetings, Parent Partnership coffee-mornings, appointments and therapy sessions which only I attended with her all these years...When all I got in reply was a "I have to go to work so I can't be with the two of you, but whatever you feel is right is right by me" (hubby) and "you're wrecking your own child's future by your own hands", and "I'll tell her, when she's grown -up, YOUR mum put you through all THIS..." (M-i-L)...I decided, in my heart- NOW I MUST DO... the TIME to THINK is over....My mind made up, I wrote to the relevant department, following my gut, my instinct and my heart, all of them telling me, in unison, to go for it! My letter done, the attachments printed, and the referrals made, I am waiting to hear from the lady whether or not it is going to work out all right. Besides, it has to be His (God's) will, too. 



In my letter, to Mrs. Rosie Newberry, at the Children and Learning Department, I wrote:

                 
Dear Mrs Newberry,


I would like to apply for a place for my child, Shivangi Sarvaiya, aged 7.5yrs at Richmond Hill School, Luton. I took the opportunity to visit the school last month. This visit was facilitated by my daughter’s present school, Chantry Primary School, Luton. The visit was suggested by Ms V Lloyd, of Luton Parent Partnership, as a result of my observation of Shivangi’s behaviour at home and in my interactions with her teachers and T.As, Headteacher and Family Support Team at school. That she is not making progress, academically or otherwise, in the current Mainstream educational Setting, despite her School’s best efforts has been clear to me for some time now. 


Given her level of difficulties, she has had the dedicated 1to1 support in her classes and lessons (as suggested in her Statement of SEN). She also participates in and enjoys the activities and therapy she has been accessing both at school and in the community, such as Occupational Therapy, ‘BRAINBEATS’ Music Programme, PECS etc. However, she is still functioning way below her peer-age level and, as her mother, I suspect this has impacted negatively in her behaviour towards others, be they adults or children. It is a constant source of worry to me, that she should fall so far behind her educational curriculum that it becomes impossible to integrate her into an age-appropriate setting in future. It is with this worry that I have turned to you. I hope that in your experience, knowledge and understanding of children’s needs you may be able to see what I cannot resolve as just a mother and, in your capacity and role with the Department of Children and Learning can help me do the best for my child. 


Shivangi’s special needs have, no doubt, been adequately studied, identified and looked into and given the level of complexity of her needs and her age the Specialists’ Recommendations are being sincerely implemented both at home and school. Her Statement of SEN, states that she has difficulties with her gross and fine motor skills, proprioception, semantic and pragmatic language difficulties, and behavioural problems (mostly seen in her social Interactions) . She also mimics speech, copies peoples’ words or phrases, imitates reactions (if I get upset she gets upset, and if I get angry and reprimand her, she turns back instantly and says it right back to me!) but her biggest ‘gift’ is that she mirrors affection and loves giving hugs. She smiles a lot and talks to anyone she wants to, whether she knows them or not! She makes friends easily as well…


You may know all this from the relevant documentation of the professionals involved, their reports etc and I am probably not telling you anything new in that regard. My sole aim today is to tell you how and why I feel Shivangi would be fortunate to go to Richmond Hill School, come September. As a Special School in the Borough of Luton, it is quite remarkable. Richmond Hill School has a calm and relaxed atmosphere, something that Shivangi needs. I noticed, on my tour of the school, how classes were run, from the specialist resources, to lessons that were tailored specifically to the children’s individual needs. There was ample support from Teachers and T.As in classes with four or five adults and just eight or nine children in the classes. This would be ideal for my child, as she currently has adult support in class on most occasions. The lovely, spacious grounds of the school, with the vegetable garden, play equipment, outdoor activities organized for the children to participate in, all would be something Shivangi would greatly benefit from. I can easily picture my daughter feeling calm and participating in all these activities, and most importantly, feeling good about the things other children were doing, and being able to do them by herself, too.


The Head Teacher at Richmond Hill, Mrs Jill Miller mentioned how the school makes regular trips and visits to bring the children out in varied social settings and activities that familiarize them with the outdoors. The School organizes many trips to various kinds of educational and social settings, so that the children can become more comfortable in noisy, busy places, find their way around with adult guidance and supervision and feel more secure. It resonate with me as I too, try and take her out with me as much as I can, be it to Town, a Park, or simply grocery-shopping with me and each subsequent trip becomes a little more easier as she knows what to expect.


Her school, Chantry Primary School, has soldiered on, since she was in nursery, to provide her with a high level of support and help her with tasks she may find difficult. From things like demonstrating how to do up her coat buttons, or zip up her jumper without getting frustrated, holding a pencil correctly and mark making, to encouraging desirable behaviour by giving her sticker-chart to maintain and an activity of her choice as a reward. All the credit for her progress so far goes to her teachers, T.As, and all the staff who have supported both her and my family at Chantry School. She was always included in activities, lessons and trips, making me grateful, for all that they have done.
I now feel that Shivangi is at the stage in her education where she needs the specialist support that would be available at a special school as the gap between her and her peers in a mainstream school setting, widens.  I feel that Shivangi would benefit greatly from attending a Specialist Educational Setting such as Richmond Hill School. I, therefore, would request you to consider this the heartfelt application from a parent wth a young child, who is following her instincts, her heart and puts her faith in you. My husband and I, both, await your response.


Yours sincerely,


Mrs Ruchita Sarvaiya.