Friday, September 18, 2009

Snapshots of an enchanted childhood

There are a few snapshots in life which remain etched in memory, much like still photos stuck in an album. Here's one of my enduring memories...
Mrs. Rodrigues, my fifth standard class teacher, steamrollering into class in a bright green frock -those were days when we did not use the term "dress"- embellished with equally loud yellow and pink flowers. Throw in matching green watch straps and sandals and you have captured the essence of Mrs. Rodrigues! This dress, apart from giving any self respecting parrot a severe inferiority complex, also jolted us into complete consciousness in about 20 seconds. Not a bad ploy, considering she handled English, history and geography for the class.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Now that Quick Gun Murugan has been declared a hit, I guess we will see a spate of sequels and prequels or atleast comic tracks in Tamil featuring Bladerunner Balaji, Rapid fire Raghu, Cycle chain Chinni and so on.
The movie got most of it right... loud costumes, routine rowdy dialogue, gangster and moll senti scenes etc, but the crowd was missing. These kinda movies need a crowd in key scenes, egging on the hero, echoing dialogues...Hopefully the sequel The Good the Bad and the Idli will get that right. Not a bad Shanshanka Ghosh, Not a bad!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Constant cacophony

Our house is small
About five rooms in all,
Room one reverberates to desi pop
Room two resonates with the latest hip hop
From room three emanates cell phone chatter
In room four vessels drop with a loud clatter
"Shhhh" admonishes the cooker from room five
Did I tell you - on noise we thrive!
Our family is small
Four of us in all...
Of course we love peace and quiet
But it's just not part of our regular diet!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Machines and swine flu vacations

In the absence of a vaccination, a vacation it is! My son is now in that stage of life where all children, most especially little boys, are interested in the mechanics of mechanical objects - the larger, the better. This enforced vacation provided the perfect opportunity for his unending quest for earth moving equipment in our tiny flat. His final vote went to the washing machine. The day I discovered this new passion of his, I went to retrieve clothes from the said machine, but it refused to open up. Now I have a nearly non existent short term memory and didn't recall which cycle I had set it on. Muttering and cursing, I went about my other work trying to figure out my next course of action, when I espied the little fellow watching me curiously from the corner of the eye in between the 1000th rerun of Chota Bheem in the "Crazy Hunter" or some such... So, I moved off from the W zone and continued pottering around...Presently, he crept in the direction of the machine and stabbed various buttons...when I heard multiple beeps I knew it was time to interrupt and he admitted to "helping the washing machine wash clothes!". Among the non earthmoving but handy category is the cell phone, and mine is always with him. He answers all my calls, sends blank messages to various members of the family - sometimes calls them- and uses it as his clock, Since then I have had to keep an eagle eye on him, the washing machine, the computer, the cell and various other machines which fall under the "must be tortured" category, making it impossible to take a deep breath, let alone blog.
Well, what's different in this very mundane picture of childhood... just that my son is a special child. Doctors, even in this day and age assure you that special children cannot do various things and that the society at large has to be completely sympathetic and tsk tsk away at them. Au contraire, praise, scold and encourage the special child as much as you would a normal one and he/she will definitely take apart a cell phone and reprogramme the washing machine. Read to them all the time from birth. It is theraupetic and develops this great and almost extinct habit - Reading! I did and my son at nine, is an excellent reader, who has now moved to Harry Potter. Every question elicits an answer of "Never ever ever" like Dobby in Harry Potter. Even though I write this in a lighter vein, the above is all true... Anyone who has a child with special needs should just take the child along in every mundane activity in daily life explaining all that is going on.Yes, a very difficult and seemingly futile exercise, but persist and wait.The children surprise you and how! Most importantly, patronising any child definitely makes them feel small and useless, just like us.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reality check!

On my daily route is what I call a semi-village. Semi because it is situated all along the alley that links two arterial roads of the bustling city. A quaint place where time manages to stand still for a few minutes in the form of languid cud-chewing bovines and minute chicken scratching the ground, before rushing on. Here, goats test their mountain climbing skills by scaling dangerous mounds of foul smelling garbage that passes for the banks of an equally foul smelling greyish "river". For waterfalls, we have a huge rotting pipe which spews copious amounts of brownish effluents into this toxic stream. Assorted cans, plastic bags and other flotsam add to the charm of this river.A rickety bridge; with twisted steel pipes for side supports serves to cross this Poison River.
Humans being humans have no qualms about living around this exotic scenery and go about their business of selling fish, joints of meat, vegetables, flowers and assorted candy.The locals seem completely immune to this breeding ground of unnamable viri, since all children roaming about look uniformly healthy and well fed! Curiously all vegetable and flower shops are clustered around the river banks as if this could take away from the overpowering stench of the water! Street dogs fight for scraps of meat while matrons fry huge mounds of golden bondas in ancient and huge kadais. The metre coffee is alive and kicking here!
Running through the length of this village is the remains of a road. Every year a layer of tar is carefully added just before the monsoon so that by the end of it a bit of gravel is visible here and there. It would seem that the very idea of laying a road in this fashion is to spin an industry out of it. The shops that sit cheek by jowl along this "road" certainly suggest it.
"CAR REPAIR" says a signboard on one,"PAINTING AND TINGERING WORKS"! While another proudly proclaims itself as a shop for "VALKANISING" and " WHEL TRUVING". I didn't get that. Anyone who understands please do decrypt!
This thriving industry has spawned another - building materials. Each shop sells the same materials, remarkably, they are in complete harmony in spelling out the materials they sell with one exception..... "RUBBIEZ" "RUBBEES" or simple plain "RUBBIS"! Spanking new "villas" erupting all around the bridge suggest that recession is a word that this village does not have to contend with.
Every now and then this happy scenario is punctuated by a traffic jam at the bridge and the whole village including the cud chewing bovines stop to comment on it and eventually untangle it! Must say, we city types are the ones that cause the pause!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vestibules and other vehicles

As we were travelling to school this morning on a crowded and narrow road, the bus in front of us suddenly ground to a halt. The traffic behind responded in a chorus of angry honks, tweets, curses and the like. The driver, whose biceps rivalled those of the latest Bollywood heroes,leaned out of his window, gave us a withering look and jabbed his finger towards the rear of his vehicle. There was a notice there in a font size of about 24 that said.
Well, that said it all, didn't it? Especially on a road that could not have been more than 9 mts on the straight!

Morning madness...

The morning started off with a job to do
Move a cot into Ma's place and move out two.
So I hired two men and a van
And moved on with the rest of my plan.
What's the problem you ask,to whine there's no reason,
Wait a bit, you haven't met problem person!
Ma's out of town and her caretaker is in charge
A spinster at fifty five she's wary of men at large.
All didn't go as planned - the men arrived before I
As I drove in I heard a blood curdling cry!
I bounded up the stairs and saw the men quaking with fear
As another scream erupted from caretaker dear.
I called ahead I said in an irritated tone,
Surely you didn't think I could do this on my own.
But I didn't see you, she countered, only these baddies
After all I am ladies!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The yummiest chocolate sauce ever!

This is sauce is to die for. It will change the ice cream eating experience once and for all...

You will need:
175g castor sugar
5 ml(1 tsp) vanilla essence
45 ml (3 tbsp) honey
90 ml (6tbsp) cocoa powder
200 ml boiling water

Measure all the ingredients except water into a deep pan. Now add water, stirring continuously. Once mixed, heat the pan and set on gentle heat to allow the sugar to mix in and the honey to melt. Stir until smooth. Now, boil fast for upto 3 minutes. Cool and pour over ice cream, biscuits whatever and gorge!

- Dip spoon in hot water before measuring honey so that the honey does not stick to the spoon.
- While boiling, stick a spoon into the sauce at frequent intervals to understand the consistency of the sauce. I like pouring the sauce over ice cream so 3 minutes is perfect for that, but do remember that you can boil it for longer and the sauce will become fudgier.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Throwing a little light on NID, NIFT entrances

While looking for information, there was no single place where I could get the complete information on these entrances, so I have tried to put a timeline on this subject.
NID is rated among the top 50 design institutes in the world though it offers a diploma as opoosed to a degree. This does not matter as the name is very well recognised where it needs to be.The test, NEED itself should be easy for anyone who has a strong background in drawing/art, but don't underestimate the need for good coaching to give the all important exam tilt. All good coaching classes have a vital weapon in their armoury called intelligence; which is basically information gathered over a long period of time from thousands of students. This database will help increase scores. Classes will not enhance aptitude though. That has to be in place! The test is conducted in the first week of January and the results announced by the third week of march. There are sample papers published on the NID website It's essential to go through them.
The written exam for NIFT is held in the second week of february and results are announced by end march. The NIFT admission is more skill based and tests drawing skills whereas NID tests lateral thinking and creativity. However, coaching classes help for the same reasons as stated above.
Once you are through the written test, NID calls selected students to Ahmedabad for a two day studio test and interview. Roughly 230 or so students are called and 75 selected. On the first day there will be a three hour 3D modelling test with material ranging from thermocol or soap to florists' foam, straws and strings.The tests are designed as creatively as they expect the results to be! On the following day, is the interview. Do take a portfolio of work. As in any interview, confidence and a definite point of view matters. What they are looking for are out of the box thinkers, with a different take on the ordinary. You do not have to be skilled at drawing, just picturising your creativity. Results of this final round are announced by the first week of may and the term starts by the third week of June.
NIFT calls for selected students for a three hour 3D modelling test in any of its campuses. This is a test of pure skill and where the student is required to make the required model using matrerials given. NIFT leads the pack in fashion design, with campuses around India. The results of this round are announced in the third week of may. Counselling is usually held in Delhi in the last week of June.
Again, coaching works here because of the database of information they have. The other design institutes such as Shristi(Bangalore), DJAD(Coimbatore) and SID (Pune) are not quite in the same league as NID, but Shrishti seems to be the second choice for design aspirants. Incidentally, NEED scores are used by a list of other design institutes who may send you call letters for interview based on your scores. A list of the institutes is available on the NID website.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

After class 12 in Tamilnadu

The summer of 2009 has been a long and ardous journey for those of us who have had to traverse the higher education maze in Tamil nadu. Having helped my child do this, I have a few things to say to parents who will face this in the years to come.
The first thing I learnt was that there is no such thing as precedent in the admissions game - the parameters that held for the last year are not valid for the current year. So, start reading the paper more closely everyday for the latest announcements/amendments and additions.
If your child is looking to do Engineering, here are some facts; most important of which is that near 1,50,000 students appear for admissions in the single window system and that number is growing. Over 10,00,000 write AIEEE; over 3,00,000 write JEE and there is a lot of overlap here. Since the mad rush is always for Engineering let's take a hard look at what you need to be armed with.
CBSE 12th grade marks rule!(Let's hope Kapil Sibal can reform this system). Admission to all colleges apart from IITs and NITs depend on it. The formula used to rank students is math/2 + (phy+chem)/2. This formula works for single window as well as management quota admissions of all colleges affiliated to Anna Univ.It would be a good idea to use this formula through all major exams of 12th It will give an idea of where you stand and help you improve scores. The deemed univs do their own thing and their admissions are invariably done well ahead of Anna which means shelling out a year's fees to ensure a backup. The good news is that the concerned minister has announced that Anna will publish its ranks (for single window) on the same day as or soon after 12th results are announced. Let's hope that does happen. What is the single window,anyway? To the uninitiated, it is a one point counselling system where Anna University ranks students using the above formula and publishes it on its website( Also published are the previous year's cutoff marks for the various departments of various affiliated universities. Using this you can figure out if you can make it to the college of your choice. Only one application form has to be filled which is available at the Anna Univ campus.
The statutory warning here is that these marks vary depending on the demand for a particular branch in a year, the competition and demand for a particular college. A score of 197.5 assures you a seat in one of the branches on the Anna campus itself or any of the other leading colleges such as SSN ,SVCE,Meenakshi etc.The popular deemed universities are VIT, SRM and Amrita to name a few. SSN is the most sought after college after Anna main campus. The number of seats available through single window varies from year to year and colleges retain a certain proportion for their management quotas. Trouble is that this magic number is not readily available.It is a good idea to find this out to help you estimate your chances. The counselling process through the single window is most transparent and efficient. Whatever the case it is important to apply for seats under the management quota in the college of your choice. Competition is stiff and the state board students on the average score far higher than the other boards. Get this - this year only students with a score of 200 (on 200!) were able to get into ECE in Anna campus.
Admission to IIT is of course through the JEE, which is not as forbidding as it seems. Anyone with strong conceptual knowledge in the three key subjects must attempt it - with confidence. Though the format of questions is changed often, the effort requires remains more or less the same for JEE. That is definitely not the case with AIEEE. It would be safe to say that IIT level preparation will definitely get you into NIT. The format of AIEEE, number and type of questions are changed every year and no one has a clue about it. Not even the coaching institutes which claim to know everything about it. Last year above average CBSE students made it to NITs.This year it is a struggle for anyone who did not put in IIT worthy efforts. Moral of the story - prepare for the boards like there is no tomorrow and keeping the golden formula in mind. Even admissions to NUS and NTU are based on the 12th scores alone. In these 2 universities, based in Singapore, the cutoff for this year was around 96% (4 subject average excluding English).
If there is time and inclination individualized tuitions for AIEEE can be rewarding. They will probably come in handy in the first year of college, but if your child is not willing to put in the mandatory hours of dedicated work for IIT/AIEEE, CBSE is a better bet. It opens many more doors than the other two exams.
There, I hope I have armed you to your teeth. Good Luck!
PS : IIT has taken to publishing a rather long extended merit list (60,000). So if your child's name figures in the list, it does not mean much. A rank of below 10,000 in this list opens a few more opportunities. Anything less can be used like a certificate, but without required board marks it's as good as not being on that list.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Deconstructing science

Very often, parents of second and third graders do not realize the importance of teaching their children the basic concepts of science. It is an important part of any curriculum and very easily taught and learnt. Trouble is, most of the more complex concepts such as the one below are left for higher grades when they are introduced in their "definition format". Children learn it by rote and parents just look the other way.
I say, let's learn science the simple way and teach it the simple way as well. So, here goes- the first of a several part series on how simple teaching science really is. Please note however that learning is an everyday, every minute thing, just like breathing. So do not put aside time for these activities; instead do them whenever the mood catches you. These will be in random order and here's the first...

What is friction?
Sounds daunting? Well go on, rub your hands together.. with more enthusiasm. Are your hands sore? Well, that's because you created friction. Friction is what happens when two objects rub against each other; in this case your hands. There! that's simple. When you rubbed your hands together, they must have also felt hot. So, friction causes heat. Now oil your hands and rub them together. Not so sore or hot, was it? That's because you used a lubricant - oil. That's why we need lubricants to control friction. It cannot really be eliminated in the real world, only in vacuum. We'll deal with that another time.
Now for the teaching children part: Make them do the same thing as you did; and tell them that it is called friction. It is a myth that small children cannot understand complex things. After all neither the activity nor the effects was complex - just the word: friction. So say it. Say it again when the door creaks. Oil - lubricate - it and the creaking is gone- friction reduced! Repeat the word whenever life presents you with the opportunity. By the time your child reaches the higher grade the definition is no longer a demon that needs to be learnt by rote.Just a scientific way of saying something learnt repeatedly over time!