SOULTales - Character Strengths, Stories & Vocabulary

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The What/How/Where of locating Children's Books!!

Have you read a tasteless book? Have you seen one?
No, I don’t mean the books that are meant to be trashy and have only one running theme through them. I don’t mean those…
My blood boils when I see a book which is meant for the discerning audience, but is fit for the kabadiwallah. They are disguised as books for children and come in many tasteless shapes, colors, fonts and themes.
This new trend of bringing mythological characters in their primitive childhood form and cavorting them around our gullible and impressionable children is most irritating.
As they devour characters like Chota Bheem and Chota Birbal on screen, this is further supplemented by books which come with names like “Chota B and the Smelly Mountain Rakshas!!”
Have you read such books…??
I may seem like a snob, but excuse me, isn’t the minimum requirement for a story, especially children’s story; a Story Line??!!

Then there are some books, which hide behind titles that have been around for a thousand years. Like the Arabian Night Stories, Bedtime Stories, etc. There are original books available no doubt, but if you are not careful, then cheap imitations can land up in your bookshelf. Again, I writhe in agony when I read such tasteless stories, and come away thinking, the people who actually print these books must be perverts.
There is no language/grammar in these books, no story and when you come to the end, it leaves you wondering…“what is the point?”
Now if you are wondering, if I am such a connoisseur of books then why I buy them?
I don’t.
A couple of such books that have landed on my children’s bookshelf were actually given by the school!! This made me wonder whether they sent the illiterate peon to buy it. I am sure that was the case…

Children want variety. Even if they like to go back and read the same story, or hear the same story, they still would like different stories every day. So that is a tall order for the “Primary Storyteller!”
Initially children love to hear the story, but by and by they want pictures, and with multi media playing such an important role in enhancing multi sensorial learning, oral storytellers have to become very creative...

What To Buy?
Western story books, for those who can afford them in hard bound, are a plenty in all bookshops. Not only classics, but the little ones can now enjoy many books from Scholastic like Clifford, and Thomas the Steam Engine (to mention a bare minimum).
Enid Blyton’s Noddy series is, you know, an all time favorite! I enjoy reading and telling stories from the Bernstein Bear series. They are immensely enjoyable; the content very child specific and relevant, usually dealing with difficulties, challenges, or fun that a 5year old faces (though here the brother and sister duo are bears!).
You also have Dora books, Blue’s Clues, Dragon Tales, and racks and racks of such colorful, entertaining and enjoyable books. An interesting point here is that as a storyteller, I used to get requests to include one story from these books in order to “attract” clientèle at libraries!!
Yet, as far as story content is concerned I vote for Indian authors and children’s books published by CBT, which is the Children’s Book Trust, and NBT or the National Book Trust. Some amazingly creative stories and ideas!
NBT holds annual short story competitions and the winners get their stories published with the art work and credits. Asha Nehemiah is quite a winner, and her stories are simple, funny and very readable.
The advantages in picking up these books are plenty; they are affordable, especially when one requires a collection to choose from, depending on the age, mood and interest of your audience. I say go for these books, any day!
Tulika publications too have some very creative books on their shelf, but a trifle on the expensive side. But if you are looking at gifts for your favorite niece/nephew, then these books are definitely worth it.

Books with audio cassettes were my children’s favorite while growing up but very young children love the feel and touch books available in big shops nowadays. My advice would be to buy these hard bound books, use them and then keep them in circulation by passing them onto loved ones and their kids. This way you will be free from the guilt of having spent so much on books that were hardly used for more than a year (children graduate very fast!).

What not to Buy?
Never buy books that say “Collection of Short Stories”, unless you have personally read the authors’ other works. Ruskin Bond is fine, so is Roald Dahl, but unfortunately some such collections that I have picked up are not up to the mark.

Where and When to Buy?
(Providing you want to buy and are not already members of libraries, so you want to skip this part …!)
Buying books for kids is an art. Just as the intrepid shopoholic waits for the month end/year end sale, so also the bibliophile needs to keep a hawk’s eye for the ubiquitous book sale.
Book shops have clearance sales…grab them! Look out especially for the crates of children’s books, which are usually kept, at the entrance/ the far end of the room. Most of these piles, have loads and loads of books that would otherwise be way too expensive.

Book fairs are fantastic places to get great deals on books. Some stalls have used books shipped from other countries but which are still in excellent condition and affordable. I usually grab a minimum of 10 of these!!

Second hand book shops are good. But one must look carefully through the books for damage. Sometimes we can be mislead by the hard bound cover, the pages inside may be old and yellowing, and so you land up possessing a book on its death bed!

Nowadays push carts full of pirated books are available. Avoid them if possible. Sometimes when you are desperate for a book, especially if you are traveling by train and need some sustenance for the journey, then you can pick up an Adiga or Arundhathi in their pirated version, but otherwise avoid it at all costs. It is a sad business, I say! If required you can actually pick up a Tinkle from these chaps and while away your journey time…

I may have digressed here and there, sometimes talking about children’s books, sometimes adults, but you see books are my passion next to Storytelling, and the two are inexorably intertwined. I will continue my ramblings on finding books and stories in my next edition, with inputs on how to look for stories on the internet….

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Art of Humour in Forgiveness

I am an Auto Mom. That means I do my bit and leave it at that.I am not the type to record every little footstep, word, profundities that my kids expound. Not that I have anything against those who do that, no offense please. I am actually too lazy and I guess any type of routine bores me quite soon, leaving me to drop it and look for some thing else, more entertaining.( And they say kids have attention deficit!!)

So I started recording what my first born was doing. That lasted about 5 months, then intermittently till she was about 1 year and 3 months. The last I recorded was that she had taken her first few steps....and then it's a blank;...I mean my record book!

She went on to walk, albeit with great many falls and bruises, and also went on to talk, still continues to talk. So much so that she has started complaining to Dad that I don't show any interest in what she has to say any longer. (But sweetheart, you must understand my attention span is very short..poor girl I know I sorely test her many a times!)

Now you see the pattern,I still only talk about my first born, what about the second you may ask. The record folks,(I guiltily admit..please don't judge me by this!) doesn't....exist!!

The second asks me to recall what and when he did his stuff, but truly I can remember my antics of my childhood, but I seem to find have passed his childhood in a blur. What with cooking, feeding, bathing and cleaning the poo and the pee, my memory has not been unable to retain much. The mindless and myriad chores that go into taking care of children has wiped out my intelligence (if I had any to begin with!)

Yet I can't but record some things that now touch me deeply. Two aspects of life that these children have made me aware of.

Forgiveness, Oh, how easily children forgive, forget and move on. It's amazing!!
The adult cannot forget, leave alone forgiving. We bring back old stuff, rake in past muck, and go on and on, reminiscing, regretting or just plain cribbing. But, I don't catch kids doing that. Even if they do crib, it's about something that they don't have now, or a lack thereof. Past has no regrets.
Just a little dose of love on a daily basis, even a meager ration is sufficient for them. No matter how much you scold, rave and rant and harangue them, they move on... providing, you still give them the daily measure of...Love.
They have this immeasurable forgiving attitude towards friends and family. No matter how many times I ask my daughter, are you not angry with me; for scolding you, getting upset with you, etc...and she in her inimitable nonchalant style tells me, and I quote:" It doesn't matter amma..."

3 small words, but with a whole lot of wisdom in it.

How many of us can just move on, leave the regrets and retributions and say those words..."It doesn't matter", and mean it in it's full sense?
It doesn't matter..that you wear spectacles, and cannot wear cool aviator style sunglasses...
It doesn't matter... that you chose to do Zoology over Psychology...and found that you have actually drifted right up the psycho alley...
It doesn't matter... that you are not as assertive as you would like to be, and many times confuse it with plain old stubbornness!
It doesn't matter...

3 small words with a whole lot of wisdom...

But I am learning from my daughter, to say it with meaning! ( But a whole lot of unlearning must be done, before this new understanding will be fully internalized!)

You may wonder who has more maturity between the two of us; don't fret, I wonder too many times, to find I come away lacking...While, her thoughts and views are filled with far more wisdom than I can understand.

Children have an intuitive and deep understanding, especially when they are with adults who need that kind of support. You will be amazed how they rise up to the occasion and give immense support to their parents, especially at times of crisis and conflict...providing they get their daily measure of Love!

(These are the children who grow up to love, cherish and care for their old parents, no matter what. Early experiences of bonding sows the seeds of understanding for the future. )

Humour, is another fact of life with children. Tiny inconsequential things can amuse them. While we walk around with a whole load of stress and worldly worries. They go about laughing at themselves and others, truly enjoying the world for what it is .. a LaLa land!! Comedy and comics are their constant companion!

My offsprings are great gigglers, that is when they are not fighting and pulling each other's hair out, they are giggling and laughing over something. Don't ask me what! It could be the smallest thing. A funny sound, maybe, totally absurd or even mundane events, words, people, anything can and will start them on a giggling spree!!

While I give them puzzled looks, my daughter tries in vain to explain the joke to me, or the humour in the event. Unfortunately, confronted with a humorously challenged person, she can only retreat. Giving up on me, as a lost cause!!

This need for humour runs through most choices in their lives. Take for example her choice of reading material. I wanted her to experience and enjoy the magic of reading Enid Blyton. But those books which gave me pleasure, like The Faraway tree and Secret Seven, does not hold her interest; much to my despair. Tinkle and Suppandi are her staple diet though I am after her to read some thing with greater literary content.

Bingo! Finally I found a book she thoroughly enjoyed...Amelia Jane, which is about a naughty doll in the nursery. No guesses, why she loves this is extremely funny! As she herself puts it, " Amma I like to laugh and I like funny books, better than adventure and mystery". I guess this is where her humorous vein comes from!

If you look at it this way, their way, every thing is worth laughing over,isn't it? All our foibles and follies.

It is this, which has led me to discover that those with greater sense of humour are faster to forgive themselves and others. Humour and forgivess, are two sides of the same coin, not opposites, they are in fact a complement to each other.

That is the secret behind forgiveness, an ability to laugh!!

Maybe I too should chuck all this heavy literature stuff that I am into and start reading Suppandi and joke books. I think this is a novel and unique way to start working on our selves!! The more we are able to laugh, the better we are at forgiving ourselves, and forgiving others.

So as I ponder over these thoughts, I urge you to pick up a good joke book, and giggle over it. Share it with a friend too, it is sure to be great fun as well!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Picture perfect!!

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As I sit inside my guilded cage, I cannot but admire what I see outside. I have yet to move my posterior, to venture out, and search for the work that I know exists out there. I sit inside my self made enclosure and look at the world...
And hey, its beautiful!!
It rains occasionally, to give us reprieve from the sweltering heat. I sit with my book on the 1887 mutiny and read about Cawnpore and Meerut, of Ladies and Sahib-loges and I can feel that atmosphere here in these quarters (!) that we call our home now.

I decide to capture some of it. The Hibiscus is overrun by enormous honey bees. It was a sight to behold. Every flower had a bee thirstily drinking away at its nectar.
The rain through the mesh doors, cascading water, verdant colours. Breathtaking!!
If this not inspiration, then what else??!!

(Click on collage for full view)

Monday, August 17, 2009

What is an inspiration?

I feel I have been tossed from an ocean into a fish tank. Trying to constrain big dreams, and attempting to transfer these dreams into the confines of a smaller playground. (It’s like asking me to play football inside the house!.)

Wherever I turn, I see a wall. You may say these are walls inside my mind. How true! And so I force myself to find inspiration, in people, in objects, and in minute things. Hoping that in the process of discovery, I will be inspired once again to challenge the world.

What is an inspiration?
A person, a book, an object, a thought, an event, or an experience?

Most commonly we find inspiration in a person. They are the ones we want to emulate. It may not be the entirety that we admire but a facet, some aspect that we aspire for. I have a few in my life. Sudha Murthy for one; simply practical, effective and immensely altruistic. As I read about her and her proactive work, I realize any inability is only in our minds.
My father is another. Psychology has a word for him: hardiness, which is an ability to take on any problem as a challenge. They are people who inspire themselves and others around them. (Unfortunately these are skills I seem to have not picked up from him!)
Where I worked briefly, Poonam.N, Usha.R and Rajul.P the triumvirate, were my inspiration. The Awesome Threesome is how I think of them! They inspired and changed my attitude towards life. It is not what they said; it is how they said it! They were great communicators, enthusiastic and unprejudiced. A rare breed indeed!
Another person who inspires me is my gardener! Hardworking, systematic, efficient and thorough, with great initiative. I can imagine if he had been educated, the corporate world would have another success story.
Many, many friends inspire me in how they have chosen to live their lives, and in their manner and conviction of thoughts.
As I write this, many such people cross my mind, from those mothers of special children I have seen, who dedicate their lives selflessly to their children, to the maid who aspires to give her daughter quality education so that she may do better for herself.

A book can inspire. In no particular order, I give you names of some of them; Roots, Life of Pi, Lord of the Rings, The Hungry Tide. I can name many more. Each book symbolizes creative thought. The inspiration, comes from the way the author has weaved the story, the creative storyline, the imagination and the imagery. I would rate this ability of man, to weave images with words, to visualize and narrate in spoken and written words, as one of the most significant achievements of human kind.

Technology has brought about cataclysmic changes. Yesterdays ideas are redundant today, and todays will become redundant tomorrow. But the spoken and written thought, verbal and visual word will remain forever, passed on from one generation to another to be read and re-read many times. We share ideas, thoughts, challenges and problems, using words. We counsel, advice, inspire, and educate using words. Even with the internet, this is one skill that man will only improve on, as without an ability to read and write, he cannot communicate, he cannot inspire effectively!

An inspiration can come from within or from without. The environment also plays such an important role. Watching the tiny dung beetle here roll it's ball of dung across my garden floor, watching the tiny mouse there caught in the trap, waiting for the right moment to escape, watching the resident peacock open his feathers at the same time every day to give us a beautiful display of his elegance. Every moment of life can be an inspiration, if we could only remember that and look for such moments.

An object, an event, or an experience can inspire us, so can;
An act of kindness, an act of mindfulness, an act of courage.
An act of compassion, an act of foresight, an act of sacrifice.
An ability to challenge oneself and others in your team, an act of wisdom.
An act of inspired singing, an act of creative expression.
An act of understanding and empathy, an act of pure innocent love.

Yet, what remains is for us to act on these inspirations. To extract meaning from these, and use it effectively to guide us on our way. To constantly search for such inspiration, in order to move from this level to the next.

Just as we find inspiration in an other, in all probability some one else is finding inspiration in us. So, as we go on living out the roles that we have chosen to, let us be mindful of those and that which inspires us, and also be aware of those who take inspiration from us.

( Thanks Divya and DP, whose
inputs helped me gain insights for this piece!!)
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