Should it be a 5 or a 6?


I am reading a book. My son sits next to me playing a game on the iPad. I pause to look at how adept he is at navigating the game. Virtual creatures seem to fill-up the screen; as an observer, I feel that chaos reigns on his iPad screen. There is constant action, there is constant movement, there is an alertness and nervous energy in my son’s stance as he grapples with the many things that need his attention to succeed in his mission – whatever that may be, because, I have no clue at all about what’s happening.

I play games on my phone too, but mine are games that follow only one pace – my pace.

I simply cannot handle the pace of the games that my kids play. Maybe it has something to do with age?

Now, I like games like Sudoku and Kakuro; which I play when the house is quiet. Games where I can think, analyse and fill-in my responses. Almost like solving crosswords in the newspaper!

Courtesy – Can Stock Photo

Sipping a cup of coffee and wondering if a box needs a ‘5’ or a ‘6’ is all that I can handle in terms of speed. I enjoy the ‘thinking’ more than the playing.

Graduating from ‘medium’ to ‘evil’ in Kakuro is cause for celebration. Some puzzles are truly ‘evil’. They take multiple attempts to solve, usually over a two to three day period. And each time the puzzle is solved, I give myself a mental high five. Simple reasons to celebrate.

And before I go back to my book, I look at my son’s iPad. It looks as busy as ever……!

10000 steps in Kaziranga


We are shivering in the morning cold in Kaziranga. We are on pins to get started on the Elephant Safari that will take us through the thick bushes and grasslands, to see the famed One-horned Indian Rhino.

Nearly a hundred people await the arrival of 32 elephants. The sun has started its journey across the sky; the early morning mist is slowly clearing.

Soon, the four of us are on our elephant, a beautiful and majestic creature. ‘Tara’ is her name, which translates to star.

Our Mahout has been with Tara for nearly 15 years. Man and elephant are one. He gently prods Tara into the grasslands, as she stops to pull out grass with her trunk, on and off.

We soon see the beautiful One-horned Indian Rhino, majestic, graceful; and oblivious to all of us. Some of them busy chomping down their breakfast, while some others are staring away into the distance.

Enroute we also see deer, jungle fowl, eagles and huge water buffaloes.

We enjoy the safari thoroughly and get back to base, after two hours in the grasslands.

We are famished, and get back to the hotel and settle down to a heavy breakfast and many cups of hot Assam Tea.

As we prepare to get back to our room, I casually glance at my phone.

My pedometer shows 14550 steps walked, and the day had barely started. I am puzzled. My first reaction is that the App has stopped working.

I try walking with the phone, and the App updates the steps taken just like it always does.

Aha…..then it strikes me, the pedometer has also counted the steps taken by Tara, our dear elephant.

I laugh out aloud, and realize that my 10000 steps for the day are yet to begin.

Seeds and Shells


Tamarind is an integral part of South Indian cooking. Tamarind extract forms the base for many yummy dishes like sambar, rasam & tamarind rice.

However, this post has very little to do with tamarind and cooking. As kids, tamarind seeds formed an integral part of the games we played indoors.

My mom and aunt would clean the tamarind pulp and give us the seeds. The seeds were of a dark brown colour!

Picture courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

We had a box filled with these tamarind seeds. When the monsoon winds blew the trees down, or when it was too hot to play outside, all the neighbourhood kids gathered at home to play games with these seeds.

We would pile all the seeds on the floor, in the middle of a circle that we sat around. The first person would blow the seeds. Being lightweight, the seeds would scatter. The objective was to pick up the seeds without shaking any other. If any other seed shook, the next person got a chance. The winner was the one with the biggest hoard!

As the player concentrated, we would try to think up spells to distract him or her. Those games were so much fun. There was a lot of squabbling, as we decided if a particular seed had shaken or not.

Another game was called 5 stones, which we played with small rounded pebbles. It called for skill, concentration, and lots of practice. We would oil our stones and protect them.

Then again, we played with cowrie shells – a very simple game of both luck and skill, just four cowries, but hours of fun and boisterous shouting!

These holidays, when my mom visited, she introduced my children to some of these games. It was heartening to see the enthusiasm with which they played. They fought over silly, shaking cowrie seeds, and whether someone had rigged the game of cowrie shells by not throwing the cowries but placing them in a pre-arranged pattern.

I watched, totally amused. Simple games with everyday objects that call for dexterity, spirit and patience.

I was happy to see that my kids were not staring at a device, or playing a game with virtual characters. Here, everything was real.

Now, my kids play these games when they are at a loose end! I sincerely hope that these traditional games, which every culture has, do not fade away!

Up in the clouds….


We are up in the hills, on our way to Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, also known as the ‘Scotland of the East’ and ‘the abode of clouds’!

The road snakes right and left, as our car makes its way up the hills. As we go higher, we are literally in the clouds. It’s as if the clouds have come down to play a game of hide and seek. Our car slices through these clouds, as they glide past us, busily going about their day.

We see flashes of green, then white, and then green. The sun shines on a glorious, blue sky. The world looks happy and cheerful.

All along the way, we see the locals going about their day, busy with farming and mining. This beauty surrounds them everyday. I feel envious.

We stop now and then at a viewing point; to stretch our limbs and soak-in the beauty all around us. The distant calls of birds can be heard, and the occasional vehicle. Otherwise, there is only a deep silence. There is harmony, there is peace.

At one such viewing point, we sit down to look at the merry clouds and the sedate hills below.

We sit down, each of us wrapped up in our own thoughts, trying to understand this beauty and to relate it to our crazy lives that have so many deadlines.

Here, there are no deadlines, life seems simple and peaceful. We are in no hurry to leave.

There are fresh pineapple stalls along the way, and hundreds of varieties of Indian pickles on sale.

We sink our teeth into the delicious and succulent pineapples, watching the road fade away into the distance.

As we go higher, the clouds envelope us completely, in a welcoming embrace. We stop at the Lake Umiam view point, where trees, mountains and lake have all merged with the clouds.

Brrrr…it is cold. We watch the lake from above, visible on and off. Faraway lights are twinkling through the cloud cover.

There is a mobile tea stall (in the boot of a car), where we slurp cups of hot, masala chai. We walk up and down, exclaiming at everything.

After all, we are not up in the clouds often..!

A walk down Howrah Bridge, Kolkata


It is only 4.50 p.m. and the sky is pitch-black! The city’s lights are glittering gems!

As tourists, we had spent the day taking in all the ‘must-do’ local sights – the monuments, the temples and the zoo, with a little shopping thrown in.

We are now out to experience the city by foot. Our taxi driver drops us off at the ferry terminal, from where a ferry takes us across the river to the Howrah Bridge.

We are the only tourists on the ferry. The rest are the locals; who are in a hurry to get back home. They smile at our excitement. For them it is business as usual. Another day, another ferry ride.

For us, it is the highlight of our day. As we get off the ferry, we are sucked into a huge wave of people that forges ahead towards the train station. At the train station, people branch off in different directions, and we head down a small alley.

The alley is filled with vegetable vendors, whose stalls are lit by candle lights and small lanterns. Business is brisk, and there’s a lot of haggling going on; veggies are weighed, put into bags, money exchanged, and the cycle repeats.

We observe the scene as tourists; for us ‘vegetable shopping’ seems so far away. Everyday chores and ‘things to do’ lists seem unreal.

We enjoy the bustle and walk up towards the bridge. Here, we see the fruit vendors. We stop to load ourselves with freshly cut guavas – crisp and tasty!

Further ahead, we treat ourselves to juicy oranges.

We finally arrive at one end of the bridge. As we begin our walk, we soon realize that we are walking against the tide. Hundreds and hundreds of people are walking towards us. People scurrying back from work, people running to catch a bus or train. Men and women carrying baskets of vegetables and fruit.

We carefully thread our way through this maze of people, enjoying the liveliness and the chaos. We stop to click pictures. The water looks peaceful, as lights shimmer and dance on its surface.

When we reach the other end, we start looking for a cab to get back. This takes us nearly an hour, because it is peak hour and the roads are jammed everywhere!

We stop by the roadside to have a cup of masala chai.

We finally find a cab, and head back. We walk down the last hundred metres, and stop at a local paanwallah’s shop to enjoy the famous Kolkata Meeta Paan. It tastes delicious.

I have fallen in love with this city, Kolkata. So full of life and energy, though chaotic at times; a city that is a perfect blend of both the old and the new. The Bengali language sounds like music to the ears. The beautiful women with their big bindis and sindoor. The absolutely delicious mishti doi, sandesh, jalebis and rosagullas. The innumerable cups of ginger tea….!

And as we travel to our next destination, it is these beautiful memories of Kolkata that we carry with us – an evening spent on the Howrah Bridge, and soaking-in the spirit of this beautiful and warm city.