Friday, July 27, 2012

How do you explain Olympics to your kid?



Olympics is in the air.  I, for one, felt the warmth from the flames, when Amitabh Bachchhan carried the torch yesterday! Now I’m no avid sports fan, but the sight of the multi-colored interlocking rings brings fuzziness to my heart.  To me, Olympics is a tradition that has withstood the ups and downs of the times. < We blame western countries for their failure in keeping traditions intact…but fail to acknowledge this universal one that they’ve sanctitized and revived.> Or more profoundly,  I’d like to think of it as a celebration of the universally accepted philosophies of our human race…a yin-yang of cooperation and competition, survival of the fittest, unity in diversity.

So what happens when I get an assignment from the school to explain Olympics to my 4-year old? I fumble. Where do I begin? Qualifying it as a sporting event seem like an understatement of the quadrennial. I contemplate adding adjectives like mega, global, or one-of-a-kind, but wonder about its comprehensibility to a 4-year old.

Describing it in quantitatively or geographically (like the guidance I received from the school) seems inadequate. That would be like seeing a flower, without smelling it; like listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops without experiencing them on your skin.

When I was little, no one bothered to explain me what Olympics was all about. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the entertainment of the opening ceremony, the two weeks of athletic agility, gymnastics antics, and discovery of sports that had no existence in my psyche before, all to culminate in the heavy-heartedness of the closing ceremony.  And the aura of the Olympics got imbibed in the mind.  A couple of Olympics later, I remember the anticipation of the daily review of the medal tally(for those 2 weeks, the medal score seemed more pertinent than the GDP of the country)  and the wishful thinking of seeing India in the higher rungs of the medal hierarchy.

What remained etched in mind was the valor in the athlete’s efforts, the sportsmanship of the participants that couldn’t make it, the feeling of pride and giddiness during the medal ceremony<sans nationalism>, and the hope to relive it again in another four years.

But I did my bit to explain Olympics in a vocabulary reserved for my son, just to abide by the solidarity of the school assignment.

More as a reaffirmation of my explanation, when I asked him, “So what is Olympics?” With childlike innocence, he proclaimed, “it’s a movie with many games”. Maybe I oversold the entertainment aspect of the games with a lot of emotions.  <Just validates my notion that it’s hard to do justice to a phenomenon like that in pure words.>

I think the best way is to let him watch and experience it, just like I did, 20 years going. And leave it to him to derive his own unique interpretations and inspirations out of it.

So, let the games begin.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Takeaways from "Temple Run": Tips for new-age parenting


I watch at the iPad screen as my 4-yr old points me to a score of 137,298. He cannot read yet, but knows it’s a big number judging by the long sequence of digits. This is his personal new-high in Temple Run - the mobile video game where you as a treasure hunter, have to outrun demon monkeys, deadly traps, and other obstacles, while collecting gold coins on the way. 
Running is all that matters!

The score has intrigued me. Especially since that kind of number never ever flashed up during my casual-yet-competitive video-gaming endeavors to-date. <To my defense, games designers back then never thought that big!> I decide to watch him. I want to know how he does it.

But the next few tries does not prove to be that lucky for him. He has not hit the 100K mark. Though the mom in me is happy, the spectator in me is losing interest. I walk away thinking this would be the end of his playing session. But five minutes later, he’s back with a happy squeal. “Great. How did you do it?” me, trying to show enthusiasm. “If you keep trying, you can reach bigger score also”. 
“Ah, keep trying, is it?!”  

So I challenge him to beat his last score. I notice this time around he doesn’t bother to pick up the gold coins on his left or right. I’m naturally curious. “If you move to the side, the monkeys attack you, Mumma!”  <Note to self:  He does understand the concept of “watch and learn”, just refrains from applying it when I’m teaching him alphabet tracing.>

In fact, I get inkling that he’s learnt his first lesson in risk-taking. Evaluate your options. You need to forgo gold coins at times, especially when they come at a higher cost.

But I can’t help myself prompting him whenever I see a long sequence of gold coins, just waiting to be picked up. “You win by running, Mumma” <which in the context means remaining alive> he tells me, with an almost exasperated expression. Hmm…so you mean gold coins are not that important after all? Well, Did he just preach me the essence of life, a la Dalai Lama style, in his game lingo? Profound!

Now I’m not a big proponent of video games or anything (And trust me, Temple Run is not paying me any commission either), but I find myself reflecting on this experience, and realizing, Didn’t he just learn about not giving up, taking calculated risks, and focusing on what’s truly important? I wonder if it would have been possible to teach him all this, if it had not been for the stimulating environment of the video game.

More importantly, what chance do my sermonizing nags have against these entertaining mediums he’s learning from!

So here’s my tip #1 for all the new-age parents: Teaching cannot be banal anymore. Either be entertaining, or be forgotten. I say, start looking for animation and speech modulation workshops, if you remotely aspire to impart any of your life learning to your children.

Consequently, new-age parenting tip # 2 is: Make peace with the fact that your children are learning some good positive things from their environment and the resources at their disposal, however eerie they may seem to you.  (And if you cannot figure out what these good positive things are, you’re not thinking hard enough!)

By the way, energized by his valor, I decided to try my hand at Temple Running. I gave up after 12,455. I guess it requires focus and commitment. Wish I’d learnt that from him!

Here’s my last tip on new-age parenting:  Ask not what you’ve taught your children. Ask instead what have you learnt from your children!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

My French (Hair) Affair


“Need an appointment for a haircut,” said I. “With whom? M’am,” bounced back the alluring voice. “Well, Who do you have available?” “You are in luck today, M’am. Our French Hairstyle Director, Laurent is available, if you can make it at noon.”

Hmm...a French Stylist! 

Just like a French kiss, the thought of a French hairstyle conjured up images of passion, style, romance and…Eiffel tower (There goes my Indian stereotyping self. Anything French = Eiffel tower!). But then came the fear of the unknown. No doubt, the risk (of going with a new hairstylist) was significant.  I’m past that age where a hair style could be treated as a fleeting crush. Well, it is a serious affair! A hair style is a matter of personal identity or crisis (if it goes wrong. i.e.).  Now it may be hard for men to understand this mental turmoil. So let me put it this way: For a woman, her hair style is as grave a matter as a man deciding what company to work for. 

 Also, it would mean breaking the loyalty with my old hair stylist, the chummy, effervescent, and always reliable, Ansar.  What had he done to deserve this?  Finally, an epiphany to break out of the nested loop (You knew I was a software engineer, right?!). A timely recollection of the lecture I had received on risk-taking from my husband the other day. And I thought, What is life without a little risk? For what its worth, my husband would be proud that I started somewhere. And with a name like Laurent, chances are that he could be related to the YSL fashion family.  

So mustering up all the courage, I retorted back with a meek okay to the receptionist.

An hour later, I’m in the salon trying to look for a gora face in the huddle of the posh but popular salon. What is it about the fair skin, and the extra credibility it gets entitled to! But instead, I got escorted by an oriental-looking female. Could it be that she’s Laurent? You never know in France. She could be an immigrant with an adopted unisex name.  Luckily she was just the hair-washer! 

Finally, my eyes lay sight on him, as I get seated in my hair-cutting chair.  A meticulous dressing style with a matching demeanor! Every bit like the French man I had imagined him to be. Enough to get me all excited about the possibilities of a French transformation. But my heart skipped a beat when I saw his client. A model-like woman to whom he was giving an uber-cropped-cut…a la Madhu Sapre style. What if he proved to be too haute couturish for me?!

With hope in my heart and Hanuman Chalisa on my lips, I waited for him to turn to me. He just looked at me. Felt my hair. “I don’t need a very short cut. You see, my hair is very limp. A short cut won’t look good. All I need is layers, just to add volume. You see!” I burst out like an accused defending herself in court. But I got no indication or acknowledgement out of him. All he did was, take out his scissors, pulled my hair and started chopping them at a 45-degree angle. Could it be the mark of a true craftsman? Maybe. Or maybe he does not understand English! I didn’t know whether to feel lucky or doomed.  Then for the next 20 minutes, he looked very much like a man on a mission; cutting my hair at every possible angle.  He was at it with same dexterity and commitment, as a French composer orchestrating his first ballet performance.  For a while, it was just the snipping of his scissors and the uncomfortable silence between us. 

I decided to break the ice. “So where are you from?” “From Paris,” he said. Hmm, that Eiffel Tower association was not too far off.  “So what brings you to India?” me trying hard to engage him. “My wife. She’s from India. She’s studied here and wants to live here." Oh good, feeling happy that I hit his talking button. “What does she do?” “Oh, she’s an engineer but has her own company now.”  Ah an Engineer, you say? Pouncing on the chance I’ve been waiting for. “I’m an engineer too,” I said, with the hope that he’ll take the cue. He should know that as an engineer I’d have a certain geeky reputation to protect. That a hanky-panky hairstyle just won’t work. And that his conventional wisdom should be overruling any creative liberties he’s been taking. But to my surprise, he retorted with, “Blow dry, please!”. What? Are we done here? I thought bemusedly, but dare not say it. Even after a good shuffle and a puff, I was not seeing it. What kind of a hairstyle was this? It felt like an un-hairstyle to me. I was about to get up, when he said, “I want to see how your hair looks before I cut.”  Are you kidding me?! What was the last 20 minutes all about?  But what option did I really have? Go underground with my current hairdo or succumb to this man’s wishes.  

And for the next 20 minutes, his scissors seemed more daunting than a surgeon’s knife. My heart sank with every snip, rose back up at each swizzle. I got the impression that my hair was posing a challenge that was bringing out the fighting spirit in him.

And finally, the golden words, “There you are, pretty lady!”

I grudgingly turned up to see my own reflection. Hmm, my hair was certainly shorter than what I wanted it to be, but it did look cute in a non-conventional yet conventional sort of a way.  I could learn to live with it. In fact, even flaunt it without being flamboyant.

All and all, a surprise happy ending to an emotionally-charged roller-coaster of an affair!

For the next time though, I’d go for a French manicure before I think of a French coiffure. Nothing against Laurent, but I don’t think I have the stomach for so many butterflies!

ps. A smart risk is a dumb risk with a lot of thinking!