Welcoming ‘Books, Coco and me’ to the blogging community


Most of my friends in the blogosphere know ‘M’, my daughter. Many of you may also remember from my various posts about her that she is an avid reader. She has loved books since the time she was a teensie weensie baby!

At the ‘ripe’ age of nine M told me that she wanted a blog of her own. “Ok” I replied, a bit amused “But what will it be about?” “About Books!” Came the prompt reply. “What about books” I asked, wanting further explanation. “Book Reviews” M said. It seemed ‘M’ had really thought this through. M believes that even though there is a lot of literature for children, there are not enough reviews of children’s literature by children. “When adults write reviews of children’s books, they don’t do it right”, M lamented.

Over the next few months M wrote several reviews of books she had read and left them on my desk to transcribe. I am ashamed to say I never got around to doing it. Partly because I was afraid that the ‘editor’ in me would ‘corrupt’ her words with my adult sensibilities. I wanted her posts to be completely her own – her words, her style… all her!

The larger more mundane reason was lack of time. Somehow there was never time to write any of my own blog posts and hers definitely got relegated to the undefined future.

In the meanwhile M acquired a ‘second’ love! She and her brother were gifted a puppy by their doting grandparents. ‘M’s’ still mythical blog thus changed from ‘Books, Muffin and Me’ – ‘(Muffin being our pet name for ‘K’ her younger brother) to ‘Books, Coco and Me’ (Poor ‘K’- he is not happy by the way he has been bumped out of her blog!That too by a dog!.)

This time when M came home for the holidays (She has recently joined a boarding school). She practiced her typing skills and managed to feed in two blog posts. Starting a blog is a long somewhat tedious process for anyone. For a ‘just turned ten’ years old, with a life full of distractions and an endless list of stuff she wants to do, it becomes a lesson in patience. M has learned to be patient. With help from an aunt she has found a theme, designed the format and published two posts! Whew!

Sharing them here with you all. We hope you will visit ‘Books, coco and me’ and shower it with some blogosphere love. So next time M is at home for her holidays she can enjoy reading your comments just like I enjoy reading mine!

Meet coco my puggy pup

Fifteen books every little girl should read

thea stilton       malory towermiles to go miley cirus bear for felicia anne of green gablescocorainbow magicwishawozzawriter

Railway children

She is going away…

She is going away…

I didn’t want to write about this since I already wrote about this last month. But since the last few days it’s all I think about. The thought I sleep with and the dull ache I wake up with. And it is impossible to write about anything else.

My little girl M is stepping out into the BIG BAD WORLD. All on her own. In the nine years eleven months she has been in my life (not counting the nine months she spent in my tummy). I have experienced the best and worst, the happiest and the saddest, the proudest and the most  anxious minutes of my existence. And on the cusp of her day of departure for a  residential school, they play out like a video tape in front of my teary eyes.

The happiest day of my life: The day I had M. The pictures show the tiny tiny M lying in the arms of  a smiling beaming me. There is not a sign of the pain and tiredness I know I felt. Holding my little ‘cookie’ wiped it all away. As soon as M was born I asked the doctor (a dear friend), “How  is she?” “How do you know it’s a she?” she asked. “I just know ” I mumbled without a trace of doubt.

I had miscarried twins before conceiving M and thus she had become even more precious to me. “She has to be the most ‘sonographed’ foetus in the world!” my sister in-laws joked as I rushed to my doctor friend each time I imagined I didn’t feel her move or move enough. I was an anxious mom to be. But the only thing I wanted to know was whether my baby lived. I was determined to not lose her. That it was a ‘her’ was never a question I needed an answer for. That, I just knew.

The other thing I knew was that M was going to be a book lover just like me. From the early stages of pregnancy I read to her. I read aloud short little stories that spoke of happy cuddly things, little mushy poems that rhymed and meant nothing and I knew that even as a baby M enjoyed them. Our reading time together became a tradition that’s been with us till now. It has been a joy to see M graduate from listening wide-eyed to classic fairy tales (Her favorite was Goldilocks! ) to lying next to me absorbed in a copy of “I am Malala” . These days she prefers to read on her own while I lie next to her and catch up on my own reading. But our reading time together is still the most enjoyable part of our day. Ten years of ‘reading time’ with M will always be the  most cherished moments of my life.

The proudest moment of my life: M was a fast learner, speaking fluently before she was even one. But having no other yardstick to compare her progress by I never attached much significance to that.  It was only after she started going to school and I started getting her progress cards that it dawned on me that M was quite special. Her school has a beautiful concept of writing short character sketches along with children’s report cards. These are short notes that the class teachers write about each child in their care. M’s notes always spoke about  her willingness to share, to resolve differences, help and adjust. But they almost always also mentioned her shyness and her tendency to prefer to remain in her own zone.

I was thus very apprehensive when she was chosen to be sent to Delhi to represent her school for an inter house quiz competition. The teacher said ” We have never taken such a small child before, do you think she will be able to cope?” Barely Eight, would she be able to travel overnight with a group of senior boys and girls ? Would she know how to sleep in a train without rolling off the narrow seat, use the awkward loos, change into her uniform all by herself? Wouldn’t  she be nervous to stand up on the stage and face strange crowds? M is a fussy eater, What kind of food would she get? I was nervous like hell  as I accompanied her to the railway station. M must have been apprehensive too, I could see it in the way she clutched tightly to her small suitcase. But as the train blew its whistle ready to roll off she put on a brave smile and waved me off – whispering in my ears “Don’t worry mumma, I will be okay.” That day as I saw her standing  on the doorstep of the train bogey, trying to be confident. I was proud of my little girl. She was facing a challenge unlike any she had ever faced before but instead of giving in to doubts she chose to treat it like an adventure. Two days later when I collected her from the station again, she was grimy and tired but bright-eyed with her first taste of victory. On reaching home she ate like a starved puppy and then snuggled into a long deep sleep. To this day , the trophy on her mantlepiece stands in my mind not for her general knowledge but for her ability to put aside her doubts and take on life’s challenges by the horns.

The saddest day, in my parenting memory unfolded when M was three months shy of  two. We had welcomed K her younger brother a couple of months earlier into our family. It had been a hectic time for us. K was born in the peak of winters and had suffered from severe cold since the first day. Between tending to a sickly new-born and taking care of the needs of a toddler I was perpetually tired and haggard. That evening as I sat M in my laps for her nightly story and asked her about her day. She began to stammer. My chirpy bird who had been talking fluently since she was eleven months old and had hardly even lisped was stammering! It broke my heart. The next day the stammer was still there and the next and next… Was this genetic? I had a close relative in the family with a stammer. Will my little girl have to face the jokes and sniggers that I had seen my relative suffer? Would it be assumed that she is ‘slow’ in her mind because she is ‘slow’ in expressing herself? Was this a passing phase? My husband and I googled and read every single article we found on stammering. Finding no answers in our small town, we headed to Delhi. The doctors and speech therapists we met were not very encouraging. They counseled us on how to deal with the condition but could give us no clue about the reason for its onset or prognosis. To the best of their understanding the stammer was here to stay.

We returned from that  trip heavy-hearted and dejected. Each time M spoke our eyes filled with tears. But we were determined to not give up. We were not going to lose this battle. And we came up with our own theory. We decided that the arrival of the baby had something to do with the affliction. And even though the doctors insisted that ‘insecurity’ due to a sibling did not manifest into stammering at such a young age, we believed otherwise. My mom in law – M’s dadi stepped in and took over the daily care of the baby. K was brought to me only to be fed and bathed, spending the rest of his time with his dadi and dad. A month or two later the stammering stopped. Just as suddenly as it had creeped into our lives, it left us for good. For a year or two we watched anxiously. Wondering if it would claim our little girl again but thankfully it never did.

K and M have had their share of sibling rivalry. But slowly over the years we were able to convey to them that they were both cherished and loved and that in some crazy way our love instead of dividing between the two of them, multiplies and grows manifold to encompass them both. Today, K and M are inseparable. Being just a year apart they understand each others thoughts and feelings better than we ever will. They snigger together about classmates, swap jokes only they find funny and share secrets, that we have no access to. And if there is one person who is going to miss M more than us her parents,  it is K her baby brother.

Her going away is a test for all of us. And like all important tests this one too is difficult. But if we pass it and we hope we will, the fruits will sweeten our lives forever.

This post was written for Parentous – a parenting forum. For more interesting stories and posts related to parenting and children do visit us there.








Considering buying some puppy love? – Five reasons you should not get a pup and One reason you should! Advice from a Pet Loving Mom

You think it is just a pet. You think it only needs to be given food thrice a day and to be walked once maybe twice. You think “I can do that much”. Sorry! Pal. You are way off the mark. You need to think again! The ‘wagging tail-ed darling’ who’s licking your hands right now will not let you think straight. So my advice… step out of that pet shop, now! Away from the mesmerizing hold of those innocent ‘doggy eyes’ and hear me out. Take what I say seriously, because I made the mistake you are about to make, three months back and I am still paying for it! (

5 Reasons Why Not To Own A Pet - Advice From A ‘Pet Loving Mom'

Here are the five reasons that would make even the staunchest ‘dog lovers’ reconsider buying themselves some ‘puppy love’ :

Reason no. 1

You have to begin toilet training all over again: Remember the time your kids were two-year olds? The constant obsession with whether they had ‘pee-d’ and ‘poo-ed’? Always trying to anticipate when they may need to ‘go‘ next? A new pup in the house takes you back to the same time in your parenting life only minus the joyful lisping chatter that a two-year old human baby is capable of. If you are still enthusiastic about that little ball of fluff, let me tell you this. “They have still not discovered puppy diapers” Atleast not in India!!!

Reason no. 2
They give you sleepless nights: Like babies, pups are demanding. They want to be cuddled and petted all the time. And like babies their desires are not controlled by the clock! Whether you watched a late night movie or had an assignment to submit and stayed up till midnight. Does the puppy care? No! If it feels like whining for some ‘human mommy time’ it will. Between mid night ‘petting sessions’ and early morning ‘bladder relief’ visits to the garden. It will be a while before you start getting your eight hours of beauty sleep again.

Reason no. 3

They shed their hair everywhere: There is a reason humans are the superior race to dogs. And it’s not the brain! It is that we do not have a coat of fur that covers almost every inch of our bodies! Just think about all the grief we face because of the hair on our heads. Now multiply that by a hundred! Do not be fooled by the small size or short length of some of those ‘cuties’. The dog dander will coat everything in your house. Your clothes, armchairs, bed linen… even the smart black jacket you reserve for special occasions! And the brushing is easier said than done. Try getting the ‘small round ball of liveliness’ you just adopted to sit still for a second.

Reason no. 4

You can bid goodbye to all your fancy shoes and socks: Actually you can cut out the ‘fancy’! By the time the gnawing, munching, chewing ‘charmer’ is done with you there will be no ‘hole – less’ socks or ‘teeth–bite-less’ sandals left in your shoe shelves. No matter how many rubbery bones or leathery balls you buy it. The teething needs of ‘new baby’ of the house will be satisfied by only that golden strapped high heel you paid a bomb for!

Reason no. 5

You can never ever leave home again without worrying about who will feed, pet and care for the ‘little angel’: Goodbye month-long vacations in Europe. Goodbye the week-long holiday in the hills. You can even say goodbye to the impromptu weekend at the new resort that just opened a hundred kilometers away. Your little ‘bundle of joy’ is not welcome on trains, buses or air planes. And no, even if you limit your holiday options to the places you can drive to you will discover that no hotel or resort or guest house worth staying in will have ‘your best friend’ aboard. Why? You ask exasperated. Refer to reason no. 3.

Post Note:

Before you give up on the idea of getting a pup,  stop looking at the pet shop windows longingly as you drive past them and relegate that book about ‘ Finding the perfect breed for your family’  to the topmost shelf of your book cupboard forever… STOP!!! I have still to share with you the one reason that would still  make you adopt that ‘ coochie poo’

As I write this my “doggy munchkin” is lying at my feet. I stroke his soft fur with my ‘un-socked’ foot. It is five ‘o’ clock on a Saturday morning and the household is still asleep. But the minute I wake up my ‘ tail wagging bundle of joy’ comes leaping up to me. He licks my toes, my hands, my face and whatever else he can find to tell me how much he loves me. Next he snuggles into my arms rubbing his sniffing wet nose into my night-clothes. “I love you too” I say as we step out into the open. Under the still star covered sky, I watch as the ‘baby’ does his ‘business’. Our alone time together is short.

Soon the children will be up and my ‘lively rolling bundle of fur’ will run away to romp with them. They will squeal with delight as he jumps on them, wetting them with his puppy drool. They will fight with each other to cuddle him first. Beg me to let him accompany us in the car to drop them to school. And make sure that he will be the first one to greet them when they return from their ‘five – hours- of – education’.

Yes the puppy is a lot of trouble but when I look at the joy on the faces of my ‘two adorable human munchkins’. I am sure he is really worth it.

The original article was published at Parentous- An Indian parenting forum.Those among you, interested in reading about children/ parenting/ schooling  or family life in general must visit the site for some amazing articles/ stories/ anecdotes and wise advice!

To Send or Not to send – Dilemmas of being a Boarding school parent

My little girl M is going away. No she is not 16 and moving to college. Neither is she 26 and getting married. She is not taking off on a holiday or a camp! My little girl is 9 and come April 1st. she is heading to a boarding school.

To Send Or Not To Send – Dilemmas of Being a Boarding School Parent

Boarding school, where gaggles of girls sleep in long bunk bedded dormitories and have gaggles of fun (my daughter’s viewpoint)! Boarding schools where busy parents who can not or do not wish to spend time on their children send them away (The critical view point), (remember taare zameen par!) Boarding school where children learn to be independent and self driven (viewpoint of hopeful parents like me).

The truth as in most cases lies somewhere in between. Having lived in a boarding myself (Fifteen years no less!!) I always thought when the time to send my own children to a boarding school would arrive, I would be able to do so easily. Instead, I discovered that fifteen years of experience in some of the best boarding schools of India (At least they used to be) made the decision even more difficult for me to take. I had too much information (aka experience). Not all of it good from my own time at the hostel.

Read More

Reinventing Festivals

As some of you know I write bimonthly for a parenting forum “parentous” . Since I haven’t been able to take out much time for blogging these days. I thought I will share with you an article I wrote for them recently. Just as a way of keeping in touch.  Its about Raksha bandhan, one of the most beautiful festivals we celebrate here in India. Consider it my way of saying HELLO!

As a little girl growing up in Rajasthan I was surrounded with festivals – Diwali, Holi, Rakhi, Sankrant, Teej, Gangaur,… the list became even longer since the boarding school I went to observed even Parsi , Sindhi, Christian and Islamic festivals.

Reinventing Festivals - Indian Festivals And Their Significance

Every festival held its own charm. Shivratri meant fasting all day to get special late night dinner, Janmashtmi meant panjiri and late night bhajan singing sessions, Basant Panchmi meant a trip to the elegantly decked up in white jasmine flowers Music Room to sing “Aeyyy Shardey maa” at the top of our childish voices. Festivals added colour to our ‘uniformed’ blue and maroon life and were easily the high points of our existence in the hostel.


Two years in a Social work college though dimmed the rosy hue around the same festivals. Seen through gender, equity and environmental lenses most festivals lost their shine revealing their unstated biases, unequal consumption and unfair assumptions. Was it right, for instance, to burst crackers knowing many firework factories employed nimble fingered children? What about the pollution? What about Teej? Was it really a celebration of womanhood? Or another symbol of the gold polished shackles that bound us tightly to our patriarchal society? But the festival that I felt let down most by was Rakhi. The soft silk bands that I proudly hand wove for my troop of brothers throughout girlhood began to smack of gender bias.

Kiss me goodnight – A mother’s five favorite things to do at bedtime

Even when my kids were young I looked forward to their bed time. My children  have never slept during the day. Not even when they were toddlers.  So, after a long day chock-a-block with chores  that ensued from being a mom to two wonderful but energetic bundles of joy. I welcomed their bed time like a third grader welcomes the bell announcing the end of school for the day. With relief and a whoop of joy.

Six years later, I still welcome bed time. The reasons though are different. They are still energetic and the day is still long. But now most of it is spent outside the purview of my home. School, sports, friends, hobbies, keep my babies away and occupied.

Thus, bed time has now become “our connecting time”. It is the time I hold them tightly in my arms and tell them how precious they are to me. The time to hug them and kiss them. Sometimes a hundred times each and tell them how proud they make us. Not because they aced the math exam or got that coveted music trophy but just because they are ours. It is my time to hear about their day. Not only hearing what they say but also listening to what they leave unsaid. I have realized that it’s also the best time to motivate, set goals, assess progress and draw lessons. Safely ensconced in my arms,  examples don’t seem like comparisons, corrections don’t become criticism. I find them more open to suggestion, more willing to introspect and reflect on the world around them.

But what is bed time if not story time? Many parents and grand parents are great story tellers. I remember the long nights I spent in my grandmother’s bed listening to her tales about talking birds and mimicking monkeys. I had my favorites that I could hear again and again. But each time I asked for a new story, she brought out one like magic from what seemed like an inexhaustible supply. When I had my children I realized I was not a great storyteller. I do not have the memory to remember stories or the knack of  making up new ones. So I devised my own alternatives.

Here are five of my favorite things to do with my children at bed time:

Tell them stories from your own lives and the lives of those around you: Children are fascinated by stories from their parents younger days.  That papa as a little boy rode his bike to school, climbed mango trees or that mumma had a favorite doll that she took with her everywhere she went, not only amuses little children greatly. It also helps them feel closer to the adults in their world. By giving them a peep into your childhood you help them relate to you better. I also believe personal stories from grand parents and parents lives give young ones a sense of history and pride.  Those among us, who have worked hard and struggled to attain  comfortable lives today  can ensure that our children learn to respect and value what they have by sharing with them anecdotes from our past.

Exchange Notes:  Most parents , specially of teenage children complain that their children never tell them anything. All queries about school, classes and friends draws unsatisfactory monosyllabic answers. Life today has become very hectic. Make your children’s bedtime the time to tune off from the world. Put that phone on silent mode, switch off that TV, turn down the laptop screen and talk. Tell your children how you spent your day. Who you met, what you saw, what you read. If you can, speak to them about the dilemmas you faced during the day, the sights that touched you  – like the beggar you saw on the road. Share with them,  If you saw or heard something that reminded you of them. Once your children are used to listening to you describe your day soon enough they will be telling you about their days too. And hopefully the habit will stick through those turbulent teen years.

Share your dreams: Not only is night-time a good time  to introduce your children to your past, it is also the best time to speak about the future. Letting your children in on your dreams and aspirations can have the added benefit of teaching them by example to have their own goals too.

Share with them their babyhood: This is my children’s favorite part. The nights that begin with ‘When you were a baby……..” are the biggest hits. Children are self focused and love to hear about themselves. It fills them with wonder to know who held them at the hospital for the first time, or about the time they did something indescribably funny  like curled off and went to sleep in the dog’s basket.

Read a Book: This time-tested  bed time ritual needs no further  explanation. My kids and I have read together every single day since they were born. To begin with, pick up something short and light. When my kids were two or three the pepper series was a favorite, as they grew they began to love Noddy, then came Roald Dahl and now at seven and nine we have Sudha Murthy’s short stories , Tintins and Malory towers by our bedside. I have found that reading at bedtime from an early age is the best way to inculcate the reading habit.

One of the things we traded off when we entered the ‘digital age’ as a human race was long drawn, idyllic childhoods. There is just too much to learn and too much to do. M and K are nine and seven now. Just children still. But not for long.  Adolescence will arrive soon. Their lives will only get busier. But I plan on clinging to bed time as long as I can.

We need to talk about Kevin 

I recently read “we need to talk about Kevin”. It’s neither a particularly gripping book, nor very exciting and yet I found myself squeezing out time from my hectic schedule to finish it. For Parentous this fortnight I speak about ‘Kevin’, and the questions it poses to us, the parents of today! Check out the link at

We Need To Talk About Kevin - Role Of Parents In Moulding Children

I would love to know your views!

Does ‘Education’ Worry You?

These days from the moment I wake up till the second I sleep (and probably while I sleep too:)) the one question that I worry about is whether or not to enroll M (my almost 9 years old daughter) in boarding school next year. Though ‘next year’ hardly sounds pressing, the decision is urgent since forms for the next academic session are accepted only till May, this year!

I am myself a boarding school product. having spent 17 years in the boarding, I had assumed, this was one decision I was never going to agonize over. But then, I was never a mother before. Mothers agonize over everything. And since education is one of the most  ‘respectable’ issues to agonize about, it has been on my mind. And it should be on your mind too If you are a parent or plan on being a parent ever

Consider this

A child who is five years old today will retire in 2068. Who the hell knows what the world will be like then?

Or this

What makes a school good? Are all ‘good’ schools actually good?


What are the philosophies behind learning and education?


Is the new experiential system of teaching really better than the traditional system that most of us as Indian children experienced? If the traditional system has worked for them shouldn’t it work for us?

or this really scary thought

What if fifteen years down the line, educationists realise that rote learning wasn’t so bad really?That it is good to introduce children to competitions from the beginning. That ranking a child actually gives them concrete goals and helps them be practical. As it lets them know exactly where they stand. Sort of grounding them in the real world as opposed to living in a fantasy world where everyone is a winner.

To mull over this and other stuff like this Visit me at Parentous.com

Here is an excerpt from what I’ve written

Most of us who are parents today have been educated in the traditional way. In our times rote learning was acceptable and even desirable. It was not uncommon for our generation to be made to rattle off long English poems or tables of 18 and 19 to every guest who came home, while our parents beamed at us proudly. “Rattafication” was emphasized upon.

Teachers still gave punishments and homework wasn’t confined to weekends. Sports were something you did for fun, not for overall development. Science was the only option for boys , commerce was acceptable if you were really struggling with academics and allowing one’s son to opt for arts meant acknowledging he was a ‘lost case’.

By the time we grew up and stepped into parenthood the whole educational philosophy had turned inside out. Suddenly, ‘Education’ became a tool for encouraging creativity, increasing curiosity and experiential learning (At least on paper and in principal’s opening addresses!).

No wonder we feel lost in this new rhetorical maze. When I went to collect my daughter’s first report card, I discovered it is no longer fashionable to ask what your child ‘ranks’ in the class. I was foxed by the O’s, A’s, B’s on the colorful greeting card like thing the teacher handed out to me.

After five-minute conversation, about how neatly my child ate, how quiet she was, how she was the star of the class and other such niceties, when the teacher still didn’t say anything about my daughter’s academic performance. I asked her, “But how has she done?” “She has done well”, I was informed. “What does well mean?” I asked. I had observed another parent, before me, being reprimanded for asking his son’s rank in class. So I refrained from using the word. Instead I said “How has she done in relation to other children?” “She has done well”, was the prompt reply.

Bye! See you…….. I am leaving for an exceptionally long family vacation on May 15th. I am hoping I will have more time to write then.  I can hear you ‘tut tut’. I know! vacations are not the best time to write. But there is never any harm in hoping! It keeps me going! Hope !



The Carpenter Beckons…….

I’ve been largely absent from the blogosphere this  month. I miss being here  sorely! Lets just say its important I stay away for a while. We have closed down our restaurant for renovation and its essential that the work is completed as soon as possible. So instead of sitting at my desk , conversing with you guys. I look at boring autocad files all day long, Worrying about electric sockets and glass panels! Whew!!!!

In the meanwhile though blogosphere continues to be kind to me. Just Yesterday I got this notification

200 follow for wordpress

I am thrilled to bits on reaching another milestone :)

Thank you everyone!

I am  now also writing for parentous.com

This is a forum for parents to talk about parenting. As a regular contributor, I will be writing for them twice a month to begin with. My first post A Mother’s Regret   is out. Do visit me there if you find the time.

Here is an excerpt from what I’ve written there :

It’s the paradox that all parents are faced with. The time when our kids are young, is also the time when we are just setting up home, establishing our careers, getting a grip on our adult responsibilities.

A Mother’s Regret - Kids Grow Up So Fast - Mommy And Kids

Between the constant juggling that household chores, career and social responsibilities demand, time slips by. And before we know it, our kids are grown up! Raised by doting grandparents, if we are lucky! Or in the company of maids and other hired help.

I craved for silence. For a day, an hour, even a few minutes!

read more

Would have loved to stay on and chit-chat  for a little while longer. But the carpenter beckons!

Tada! then:) See you soon

And thank you  once again!

Weekly Photo Challenge – “Lost in Details” – Finding My ‘Special’ Shine –

Today I had an incredible experience!

Past few weeks I’ve being going through life on auto mode. I wake, I work, I eat, I work some more and at the end of the day I sleep. I usually like to go through life full force, cramming as much as I can into every second. Friends, family, work, play, writing….. But lately, everything seemed to have lost its sheen. I still continued to go through the motions but the spark went missing.

And then Today I found it again! In the most unexpected way.

A social service club I am a part of had an event in a school for the mentally challenged. I  agreed (not very enthusiastically! I may add) to go along. The school a small one with only 25 children was housed in a single room building. There was a neat well-kept garden outside. The head teacher received us warmly and introduced us to the children and their parents.

Whenever I meet the parents of a special child, I am at a loss for words. I know it’s fashionable to say stuff like “Oh they are such a blessing” or “They are so special” (Which they undoubtedly are!) But  in today’s time when everyone is so besotted with perfection-  perfect scores, perfect looks, perfect children… I can’t help thinking “Yes! They are special. But where is the space for them?”

Back in the times when we still lived in villages, and aspirations were simpler. At least there was more acceptance of these children. Their lives were not much different from those of the ‘normal’ children. Like all other children they too loitered in the fields, played make-believe games, stole mangoes and tamarind and watched the world go by. Agriculture was the main stay and as adults most of these children could be gainfully employed on the family fields. But in today’s hectic city lives, the gap between them and the ‘normal’ has increased. In today’s times of “Little Champs” and “Young maestros”, the divide between ‘normal’ and ‘special’ has become vast. The mechanized, office based livelihoods available in our cities today, don’t have much room for their ‘special-ness’. And every time I have spoken to the parent of a ‘special’ child I have heard the same fear. “What will happen to my child after I am gone?” Who will look after her/him? Who will take care of him? How will he survive?

In a country like India. Where 70 percent people still live below the poverty line. Where the state machinery has failed to deliver meaningful education and basic health facilities to even its ‘normal’ citizens. What hope of a secure future do these children have?

I remember well the first case I was assigned as a student social worker with a school for physically and mentally challenged children (That’s what they were called then!) in Bombay. I was asked to visit an ‘uncooperative’ mother. I was told “she doesn’t take the child to the therapist for appointments.” When I reached her home – a small cramped hut located in the middle of a filthy slum near Bandra. The lady was making chapatis on a kerosene stove, two young almost naked children stood next to her and a baby hung by her breast. Needless to say, I didn’t end up delivering my reprimand. She gratefully accepted my offer to take the child for her appointments.  “It’s not that I don’t want to take her didi but it takes up the whole day and I have to go to work too.” she said.

  A child with special needs requires additional resources. Besides financial resources, these children also require more supervision, time and patience. Unfortunately a great number of these children are born in families that don’t have enough to fulfill even the basic necessities. The already limited resources of these families are severely stretched by the presence of a ‘special’ child. These families need and should be provided adequate financial, psychological and emotional support.

The Indian government does support establishing and running of ‘special’ schools. But the number of these schools is grossly inadequate. Many of them are not properly equipped to provide the various therapies these children require. And there is also the fear that confining these children to ‘special’ schools may reduce their interaction with ‘normal’ children and cause social exclusion.  The focus thus, even in ‘special’ schools is on ‘mainstreaming’. By mainstreaming they mean pulling these children out of ‘special’ schools and absorbing them in regular schools. I don’t deny the need to mainstream and yet each time I approached a school for mainstreaming these children. I felt like I was abandoning them. Very few schools have ramp access or toilets to accommodate wheel chairs.  Children, even teachers were not sensitized towards these children. Often calling them names and staring rudely. It’s no wonder that the children themselves never looked forward to being mainstreamed. Mainstreaming was just another word for ‘adjusting’ . Adjusting, to a world that was designed to exclude them.

I have always felt that the solution may lie in the attitude. If for instance instead of focusing on ‘mainstreaming the children we begin to focus on ‘specialising the schools’.  We start to equip our ‘normal’ schools with facilities needed for ‘special’ children, both infra structural and attitudinal. As the schools adapt we can declare them as ‘regular schools with specialized facilities’. A special child crosses over many internal barriers to reach a normal school. The least we can do is ensure that when they do reach there they are welcomed with open arms.

I remember a conversation I once had with a young physically challenged man. He couldn’t walk and had to use a wheelchair to get around. He belonged to a well to do family and his parents managed to get him educated in the best of institutions in India. But he said that the first time he felt truly ‘accepted’ was when he went to an American university to pursue his Post Graduation studies. The university had researched on his particular kind of disability and modified his assigned accommodation according to his needs without any instructions to do so, even before he reached. His eyes filled with tears when he said “For the first time in my life I felt able not disabled”.

Our entire educational system is designed for the average, The average child is who we are concerned about. But an average child is a mathematical myth. An average child doesn’t really exist. Each child is unique. In our quest to treat all children as same we beat out their uniqueness till they fit into our pigeon-hole of the ‘average child’.

But I am digressing. As I am prone to doing each time I reflect upon the state of our children and our educational system. The post was about regaining my lost fervor. And that’s what I wish to share with you.

So here we were, six well turned out ladies from a social welfare group. After, dropping our ‘normal’ children in city’s most expensive schools. We had come here to meet these children and their parents, most of them from poor economic backgrounds.  Most of these children were mentally challenged, many suffering from border line retardation. Quite a few of them had an odd gait, held their head in an unusual tilt. A few of them could not walk without support. The principal informed us as we reached that the children had prepared a cultural program for us.

When we walked in, we were surrounded by bright eyes and happy smiles. The children were dressed gaily. There was a buzz in the air as CDs were collected and mikes were  set up. Cheerful banter was being exchanged. Mothers fussed over their wards as proud dads clicked pictures. When the program began, we were struck by the pure joy that these children brought to their performances. There was none of the self-consciousness that one associates with stage programs among normal children. The steps didn’t matter, there was no obsession over coordination or ‘getting it right’. Unchained by the expectations to be ‘perfect’ these children danced with abandon. They danced for themselves. And in doing so they made the experience memorable for us.

No matter how hard their life is there is a beauty in it. That one can’t help admiring. Their lack of ambition and self-consciousness makes one wistful, almost envious.  Their innocence and ability to derive joy in the smallest of things makes one look around at the world with renewed wonder. Their unabashed joy rubs off on everyone, even my world-weary soul. And I find myself smiling. The world no matter how selfish and brutal is still a wonderful place. I find myself thinking “The key lies in not getting lost in the details of living. Instead we need to  just slow down and enjoy the ride”

At the end of the program, we hand out the prizes. The children beam, the parents look on proudly. The warm glow I feel in my heart brightens me from inside adding sheen to my every thought. As I leave there is a spring in my step and  I get the feeling that I received the biggest prize of all!!

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