On reading – part 1

Menaka Raman is a former copywriter and freelance journalist. Her son Sachit is in Sr. Kg Shraddha and she has another son Shyam all set to become a Shishuvanite this April. Menaka is a bibliophile, runner and eats too much cheese. 

Some time ago, I came across an Emily Buchwald quote. It read: “Children are made readers in the laps of their parents”. So lovely, simple and true.

My own childhood memories of reading are vivid. Dick Brown’s ‘Miffy’ stories, Mr. Men and Little Miss books, breezing through Enid Blyton before devouring Roald Dahl and then heading in the direction of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and Sweet Valley High, the last a precursor to a year wasted on Mills & Boon.

My parents had one rule, if you wanted to read books you borrowed them from the library. Thankfully, growing up in Chennai you were spoiled for choice when it came to them, and still are.

From the imposing Connemara Library to the modern edifice that is the Anna Centenary Library, Chennai is a city filled with book lenders. But the city’s favourite establishments are perhaps the more humble ones, often named after a family deity: Murugan Lending, Rajyalakshmi Lending and Vinayaka Library. Crammed with books from floor to ceiling, most do brisk business on the strength of their Harlequin Romances and David Baldaccis, but you’ll often find Ghosh, Rushdie and DeLilo sitting quite comfortably next to them.

Every fortnight, my father and I would venture out post our post Saturday lunch siesta. He would kick start our Kinetic Honda to life and we’d head sraight to Eashwari, our preferred book house.

Once there, my father and I would part ways, surely an exaggeration given that the library was no larger than our living room. But those few hundred square feet were divided with enough racks to make it look like a book lined rabbit’s warren.

There was no limit on the number of books I could take out.

My father never grumbled about the dozens of books I would bring home, even when all of them were treacly Mills & Boons with titles that no doubt made him shudder in horror (The Spaniard’s Virgin Mistress; His Pregnant Secretary).

When I was ready to leave those granite-jawed Spaniards behind, my father was patiently waiting in the wings, ready to shepherd me towards other literary realms, some which I took to quite happily. Others not so much. P.G Wodehouse was a success (but then perhaps he is with all Tam Brahms of a certain vintage). Louise L’amour sadly didn’t make the cut.

But it wasn’t always my father guiding me through the maze of books. We made many a discovery together, and I still remember our mutual joy on reading Dalrymple and Theroux for the first time. And there were the times we disagreed “How can you read this Rushdie fellow?” he would often exclaim.

Books selected, we would head off for tiffin to the Woodland’s Drive In, a Chennai institution now sadly turned into a park with a duck pond. We would order our onion rava dosas and filter coffee, pick a book and start reading till our orders came.

Our conversations over tiffin and coffee often centred around books but also touched upon my father’s days at DU and my tween-ridden dramas. He would ferry me back and forth and make quiet suggestions, astute observations and sometimes, wisely, say nothing at all.

Our fortnightly library trips were something that happened all through school and college, rarely disturbed but in the case of out station visits. They didn’t stop even in the midst of board exams and college finals.

While I’m sure I sat on my parents lap and was read to as a child, I sadly have have no recollection of the same. But our fortnightly trips to Eashwari are still fresh in my mind. They made me the reader I am today.

I guess I was made a reader riding pillion on my father’s Kinetic Honda.

Thoughts on my daughter’s Sports Day


By Manish Kamdar

Manish Kamdar is proud father to Kavya Kamdar a student of Standard III Karma. Manish is an engineer, entrepreneur, blogger and foodie. His hobbies include stamp collecting, coin collecting and public speaking.

My daughter Kavya had to report at 0640 so the entire household was working in tandem to wake her up and then ensure she is pushed out of the house on time:-) I too was challenged today as I went to bed quite late but was categorically informed by her last night that I had to be present as I had never attended her previous sports days (Why? Search me – maybe I was traveling – a very convenient excuse to feign.)

I reached at 0705 when they had just begun. Nice weather and the setup looked nice. Reminded me of the Sports days we had at DPYA at St. Xavier’s ground in Parel all those years ago. Checked in on the phone and as expected got a response from a friend about memories of those days. Another friend, Atul confirmed that he attended his son’s sports day last year at St. Xavier’s. Good old DPYA…. Nothing has changed except that the gang of 1983 is out in the open world now.

Coming back to the day today – what struck me was the march past. Kavya was one of the two flag bearers for her class. I spoke to one of the teachers there on how every class has a different design. She informed me that they had divided every class into different groups and each group came up with their own design after which the entire class voted for the best design. The selected one became the flag for the class on the Sports Day and the kids then all got together and made the flag in the Art Class. Impressive! Democratic process plus a chance for the group to express their rationale on designing what they did and why. So the children learnt (hard) selling their ideas too. Gearing up to pitch to potential investors in the future? Who knows…

Another concept that I loved about the school is the chance for all to participate on the Annual Day (something that I had conveniently forgotten when at DPYA and bragged on stage always – apologies to my batchmates yet again). For the Sports Day also, they had the same principle and all the children participated. When I asked Kavya why some other person was not chosen as the flag bearer, she told me that he had done that role earlier. Impressive. Inculcate the leadership instinct in every child and make him / her feel special.

The games weren’t the usual 4*100 metres or such but consisted of fun games but which needed concentration and skill and they performed as a team. Honestly the games reminded me of Tele match that we had on TV during the black and white days. Fun yes but needing skill.

The announcements made by the Emcee/s pertained to the skills needed to perform in the respective game. Another notable thing was that children from the different classes read out parts of the speech which contained something that they had learnt. As a toastmaster (who has just given his first speech), realised that every child was playing a different role and was trying to excel in whatever they did however big or small, however visible or not.

I never knew the school had a band of their own (I thought that DPYA was the only one honestly and had then found the idea ridiculous). Having been for R D Burman’s events recently, realised that their band had a lot of focus on the brass section a la Kishore Soda and the children played it with aplomb. Of course they were from the senior section but kudos to them for doing so well.

Different themes they had like Kavya’s class did the Dandi March, the 4th standard children had lezim depicting the monsoons etc. Towards the end, some 50 parents also participated. After which the teachers participated.

All in all had a great time there and learnt first hand that every child is a leader – whether an R D Burman or an extempore speaker or an Olympic sprinter, only time will tell.

What we teach our children – Swami Kriyananda


This beautifully worded piece has been shared with us by Jay Upadhyaya whose son Ahaan Upadhyaya is in Standard 1 Karma.

Jay comes from a creative background and works in the fields of  interior design and 3d  animation. He is currently  working on an in house 2d animated feature film and a mobile game on Rats.

In his spare time he enjoys cooking.


One of the greatest predicaments we face in our modern society is the education that we give our young. Should we cram our children’s heads with facts, or educate them for success as human beings?
We teach children how to solve problems in mathematics, but give them nothing to help them solve the problems they face in their personal lives. We flood them with a tide of facts, then tell them, as we send them out the door with their diplomas, “It’s up to you to figure out what it all means.”

The modern age is addicted to factual information. By “addiction” I mean that the fascination has reached abnormal proportions. It is necessary for us, now, to emphasise that facts by themselves cannot bestow wisdom. A blizzard of unsifted information offers no sense of direction, nor any knowledge of where one might go to find inner peace, poise, and a sense of life’s deeper meaning and joyous possibilities.
We forget that the discovery of some new fact concerning a galaxy millions of light years away has very little actual bearing on our lives here on earth. Knowledge, on the other hand, of how to get along with others, and how to be happy, has a great deal of relevance.
Spiritual and moral laws, like the laws of physics, never change. The excitement of scientific discovery has captured our imagination, but the laws that rule human conduct remain unalterable. It is the particular genius of ancient philosopher-scientists that they expressed these laws in their clearest, most practical form.
It is time to approach science from a fresh point of view. Paramhansa Yogananda offered an amazingly simple answer to modern scientists who claim that all life exists only as an outgrowth of inanimate matter. Yogananda replied, “Matter, too, is conscious, however dimly so.”
Yogananda also suggested that the effect of moral values on human nature needs to be tested, as if in the laboratory, by observing their actual effects on people. He suggested that spiritual communities are ideal places for conducting such observation. We have discovered that “children who learn to love, love to learn.”
Teachers and parents may complain that if we spend too much time teaching children these personal skills, they will be left behind in the race to acquire the information that will fit them to compete in the job market after they leave school. But this is false reasoning.
Children who learn to concentrate, to increase their awareness, and to channel negative emotions into constructive outlets are able to handle all the factual information they’re taught in school far more effectively.

There is another important dimension that needs to be introduced into schools. Children are made to study the composition of the atom. The most important question of all, however, is: “How can one find happiness?” Schools, Yogananda said, should above all be treated as laboratories for solving this most basic of human questions.
Primarily, what is needed is a system of education that will prepare children for meeting life’s challenges, and not only fit them for employment or for intellectual pursuits. And we need to see the whole of life, beyond the years spent in school, as education.

For if indeed, as most people deeply believe, life does have an ultimate purpose and meaning, then its goal must be to educate us ever more fully to that meaning. And the true goal of school must be to help prepare us for that lifelong learning process.



What happens to an idea

by Jai Sonwalkar

(What an idea Sirjee! Here Jai takes a sneak peek at what happens to an idea without going too much detail into this vast topic:)

A seed’s fate is a chance – 50/50. It might germinate into a seedling, manage to grow into a sapling and fight for resources like water and sunlight to emerge as a plant/tree. On the other hand, it might die at any of the above stages.

An idea is like this seed – it might germinate from the brain to the mindmap/drawing board, manage to convince the decision makers and become a blueprint and actually evolve into an action, a product/service, a practise, why even commercial success. On the other hand, it might die at any of the above stages.

Sometimes the idea dies even after it comes into action. The action readjusts, realigns and changes so much that the original idea is lost. Often the new action is better than the old idea it outgrew. Many times, it is not.

An idea in itself is not perpetual even if it may be long-lived. The idea of using a wheel seems perpetual enough, but wheels might serve a different purpose in the future.

So how does one protect an idea from being smothered, killed or dying naturally? Does one want to protect an idea at all? What about ideas that change with changing times and the ones that adamantly don’t?

Ideas on the whole never die – they are constantly replaced by others. So as long as brains are working, ideas will make their presence felt.

Getting back to my original question, the title of the post – What happens to an idea? It is not enough to just have an idea and gloat over it. What really counts is – transforming those ideas to something real. It’s not always easy nor always difficult.

There was a time when I’d sleep with a tiny notepad and a pencil under my pillow – ready for any idea that sprouts in my sub-conscious mind. It would keep me awake long enough to scribble it down. When I wrote it down, the idea would grow. It would either lead to a sleepless night, where the idea was twisting and turning to grow into a full-fledged plan. Or it would make me sleep with satisfaction – acknowledging that it was a good idea which can wait till morning for any action. I sleep over most my problems as the ideas to solve them visit me only at night.

(click to enlarge)

What do you do with your idea?

 (All images courtesy: Google) 



by Sini Nair

Sini, one of our regular contributors, teaches English in High School in Shishuvan. She wishes to express her gratitude to her Std X students in this poem she’s written:

The journey of my life took me to strange places
They scared me, they stared at me and they gave me mazes
Mazes to understand, to solve and evolve
One of those mazes that I encountered was a class of tenth graders
With apprehension and doubt I entered their class
I could hear a whisper, “How are you going to start?”
Without a doubt I spoke my mind
I told them that I would lead them through the grind
They heard me out but still had many a doubts
Days went by and so did our interactions
More than anything that I learnt from them was acceptance
They accepted me without a thought
We spoke and argued and fought
And the best that happened to me was ‘Sammy’
The whole process disclosed their maturity
It made me see through their sensitivity
This is just a small and humble way of saying Thank You
Thank You for being what you are
Thank You for showing me what is Patience
Thank You for all that you have given me in a short span.


by Akshita Jain

(The usually shy Akshita from Std VIII has emerged from a cocoon as a butterfly! She wants to express herself and has started by her first poem for the blog about her changed attitude towards the subject ‘Science’:)

I hated it,
But now I love it.
It was boring,
But now it’s exploring.
The one and only subject,
Science, science, science.

I thought I pass,
But when I saw world was vast.
I went up and down,
But no one I found.

You called me smart
But I did not have a strong heart.
I stopped my tear,
But was filled with fear.
I didn’t want to cry
But my tears were never shy.
So now I say don’t learn science,
But explore it.


by Payesi Chheda


Payesi is our effervescent Labour and Education Minister in the Shishuvan Parliament. Their class visited Agastya for an educational field trip and it took her breath away. Below is her poem – her labour of love, for the Agastya trip:


The most beautiful train journey
The rocky mountains, the sunny valleys.
The songs we sung, the games we played,
Taboo, Antakshari, Mafia all fun in their own way.
The 24 hour train journey went away like an hour,
Although we didn’t realize it, from home we were far.
The day came when we reached Agastya,
My expectations just hit the highest bar.
The buses were so comfortable we didn’t need a car.
The jokes we cracked, the fights we had,
We had music sessions from Sahir’s dad.
But now that the days have gone by so fast,
I am unhappy that this day is now the last.
I hope to come back here again,
I give this trip a ten out of ten!

Monsters’ Valentine

~ Jai Sonwalkar

(Jai often tries to understand the other side…like the monsters under the bed and behind the closet door. After years of studying them she has found out that Monsters have a heart too….and a big appetite! Here’s a little love story she once witnessed involving two monsters…)

(image courtesy: google images)

“I’d get under the darkest bed, scare the oldest kid, if you’d only be mine!
I have the biggest closet waiting for you my love, be my valentine!”
wooed Gooey-green Glob as Snotella snorted coyly.

Snotella batted her only eyelid as Gooey-green’s tentacle wrapped around her.
But boo! What’s this? She unhinged her jaw
The Glob disappeared, inside her ravenous maw!

Sorry that I couldn’t flirt,
you see you were just what I wanted – a jelly dessert!”

No wonder they say,
for monstrosity’s sake –
the way to a monster’s heart is through her tummy,
Snotella found her true love, in green gummy!

My experience with Shishuvan

by Avni Rambhiya

(Avni works for a digital media consultancy firm based in the US. She was invited by a parent to have a talk about software and its vulnerabilities to students from Std IX. In this post, she shares about her experience with Shishuvan.)

There are visions, and then there are visionaries. As cliched as this may sound, I found myself in awe last week while taking a tour of the remarkable Gandhian, democratic world of education that is Shishuvan.

Guided by their dynamic external affairs minister Anushka, my dad and I were privileged to see first hand what progressive visionaries and the unleashed natural enthusiasm and curiosity of children can accomplish together. Like the sunflower whose colors inspire their handspun khadi uniforms, these children are truly driven to turn and face the sunshine, whatever direction it may come from. To Premji uncle, high school HOD Subhadra, school principal Neha, and parents Lincoln and Swati Gada, and also to the ever-effusive Darshan Gada, I owe my thanks for this eye opening and heart warming experience.

In theory, I came to talk to the children of standard IX about what software is, how it can be altered, and how developers and users of software can keep themselves secure from threats of malware, piracy and counterfeiting. I came equipped with only 10 slides for a one-hour talk, with the plan to devote at least half the talk to interactive discussion and Q&A. That was a good thing, for no sooner had I started talking than I realized two things. First, that these kids were far more adept with consoles, smart phones, ecommerce, electronic banking and software app business models than many supposed industry veterans I meet. Second, that they were not afraid of asking questions. Not just about technology, but also about the politics, ethics, business considerations and future opportunities in the field. Thus it came about that in practice, we discussed everything from hacking gaming consoles to the role of technology in Syria and Egypt, from motivations for hacking to global disparity in laws regarding fair use and content access, and from the legality of corner-store refills of printer ink cartridges to the process of stealing credit cards. After most talks I give, I come away satisfied that I my audience’s time was well spent because I was able to impart a good amount of information to them and broaden their horizons. This was one of those rare and treasured engagements where I came away having had my own horizons broadened. The hour passed in a blur, and I never once felt I was talking to school children – these were curious, well informed, outspoken and yet extremely respectful adults-in-the-making.

As I left, I was given yet another gift, also unexpected. A hand made gift bag, made with recycled materials, with a hand made card and a book called Divasvapna – day dreams – that tells the story of a young Gujarati educator in British India experimenting with Montessori and natural learning methods in a fourth grade class. I’m now bitten by the bug of Gandhian educational methods, and look forward to reading and learning more about ways to teach integrated curricula in thought-provoking ways in our own gifted classrooms back home in Baton Rouge. I also look forward to continuing to engage with the Shishuvan community, and wish this oasis of learning and creativity the very best.

Kind regards,

The happiest day, the happiest hour

By Priyanshi Mehta

(This gentle tigress has a factory inside her brain which takes in words, mixes emotions and churns out beautiful poetry and prose. In this poem, Priyanshi has tried to dabble in the Shakespearean style when most little people her age run away from Shakespeare! Keep reading the blog for more from this fantastic poet/writer)

The happiest day
The happiest hour.
My seared and
blighted heart
had known. The
highest hope of
pride and power.
I feel had flown.

Of power! said I?
Yes! Such I ween:
But they have
vanish’d long, alas!
The visions of my
youth have been.
But let them pass.

And pride, what have
I now with thee?
ANother brow may
even inherit.
The venom thou
has pout’d on me -
Be still, my spirit