Books 2016, Inspiration, Learnings, Reading, Research, Uncategorized

MS – A Life in Music by T.J.S. George

As a child, I grew up listening to devotional songs by MS – the Hanuman Chalisa, the Ramnavali, the Suprabatham, and the Vishnu Sahasranamam. One of my proud mommy moments was when my 2-year old second born would regale us with the singing of the first few words of Bhaja Govindam by MS when he had barely begun to string words into sentences. Every once in a while, I would resolve to play her songs at home as steadfastly as my dad did, only to let it slip in the humdrum of life. 

MS, to me and to several others exposed to her mellifluous voice and divine rendition, is synonymous with devotion. A certain sense of peace pervades your being as you lose yourself to her singing. Little did I know that underlying that serenity were stormy forces and scandalous events that made MS a household name in south India.

In this biography, MS – A life in Music, author T.J.S. George has done a phenomenal job of writing the life story of MS in the context of the societal norms, the evolving performing arts, and the people in her life – notably her mom Shanmughavadivu, her husband Sadasivam, and her contemporaries.

I confess that half way through the book, a part of me wished that I had not started this book because I was worried that I would feel let down – I would form impressions of MS that I didn’t want to. But I am glad that I persisted because the rest of the book so beautifully reinforced how that her enablers (her mom and her husband) may have made calculated moves to make MS popular but that did not in anyway adulterate her dedication to her art . From the beginning to end, MS did what she knew best – being true to her music. With passion. With discipline. And devotion. Nothing else mattered to her. 

If you heart MS or are a music lover, this is the book for you. You will not only end up learning more about the legend but become more knowledgeable about the dynamics that shaped the carnatic music through generations. 

I leave you with few lines from the book that tugged at my heartstrings.

“Her involved non-involvement, her detached attachment somehow enhanced her beatific profile. She was Sadasivam’s wife, Rajaji’s disciplie, Kalki Krishnamurthi’s friend, but she was always MS. In the end, she herself was her music and her bhakthi. In the end she attained what the people around her seemed to miss – a sense of fulfillment. Sadasivam was successful and devout, but did he find ultimate fulfilment? Rajaji stayed for long at the top of political and social pyramids, but did he find the satisfaction of the true achiever?

A look at MS was enough to convince anyone that she had found herself. When she sang the Rajaji hymn “Kurai ondrum illai” it was like she was telling the world about herself and thanking her god for his blessings. One word occurred frequently in the language of those who met MS in her later years: Glow. Everyone talked about how she glowed from within. In the midst of frenetic life, she had found serenity. An aura of grace surrounded her.

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Experiences, Experiments, Introspection, Kids, Research

National Pledge

I was going over the Indian National Pledge in preparation of my culture class. This is how it goes.

India is my country.
All Indians, are my brothers and sisters.
I love my country and, I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.
I shall always strive to be worthy of it.
I shall give respect to my parents, teachers and elders and treat everyone with courtesy.
To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion.
In their well being and prosperity alone; lies my happiness
.

A part of me felt very sad that the pledge left the most important piece – self-respect. Respecting parents, teachers and elders are important and I stand by those values but isn’t respect for self equally important? Why does our culture not teach us to nurture the self? After all, aren’t we our worst critics? Isn’t self-compassion the hardest practice? shouldn’t we all be taught to listen to our inner voice? Isn’t being true to oneself the noblest of all virtues?

Well, I am not going to start a petition for changing the pledge. But I am a mom and I am a teacher. I can kindle minds, and that’s precisely what I intend to do!

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Hari Katha, Learnings, Little Moments, Research

Learning through music rocks!

Hari’s school rocked today, literally and figuratively.  One of the topics in the science syllabus for this year is rocks and minerals. Guess what the music teacher did? She picked a few rock songs from the 50s, tailored the lyrics to be all about rocks and minerals, and organized a concert around it. How very creative is that, isn’t it? Hari’s class sang about the different kinds of rocks (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic) while another section had a song that talked about how wind, water and ice shape rocks, so on and so forth. The kids sang and danced, and became experts on rocks and minerals along the way. Who knew memorizing can be effortless and fun filled?

Inspired by similar events in the past, I have been experimenting with teaching kids via songs, and hands on activities at sunday school this year. I see a world of difference in the enthusiasm that goes into learning. For instance, I have always stayed away from making kids memorize states and union territories of India. It felt too much. That is until I came across this song on youtube. For the past three classes, I have been spending a few minutes practicing this song with the kids. When I quizzed them based on the lyrics, I was happily impressed with how the kids were competing with each other to answer. As homework, I asked them to practice the first sixteen lines. Want to know their response? They insisted that I extend the homework to have them practice the entire song. What’s not to love about this love for learning?

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Experiences, Learnings, Research

PTA contributions

It took me a couple of school years to fully appreciate the critical role that the PTA (Parents Teachers Association) plays in the school system. The PTA raises funds, facilitates enrichment activities and are vocal advocates of the community. An active PTA truly makes a big difference to children’s learning experience at school. It takes time and effort from an army of volunteers to keep the wheels of the association oiled and running smoothly.

On behalf of the PTA, I compile the monthly newsletter for the school. It takes about two to three hours of my time every month. Although the work itself is mundane, the feeling of contributing to a higher purpose makes it gratifying. Today, I worked on a newer version of the newsletter and was very impressed with the cool new templates that Word has (all I did was open up a new Word document and searched for newsletter in the template section). Very excited about the new look and feel…! I had super fun tweaking it and making it relevant for our newsletter.

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Experiences, Learnings, Research

Just Ask

After mentally rehearsing how I wanted to frame the conversation, I dialed the 1-800 number with determination.

I had a $18 balance on the credit card of a retail store. They had slapped a $15 late fee for making my payment two days late. While I had already made the payment and as much as I accept that some late fee was in order, this figure seemed outrageous.  How could I let it go without a fight? If not anything, I had to express my displeasure.

With all this frustration bottled up, I waited for the “next available customer service agent”. As soon as I heard a human voice, I explained the situation as is, and asked him if the late fee could be waived. And guess what?  No arguments, no back and forth explanation. Just a polite, “Let me handle that for you today. Your $15 fee has been waived and your new balance is… kindly make your payment on time the next time, which is due mid of next month.” I had to pinch myself to make sure that this was real and that all it took was a 10-minute call to get back my $15.

Da told me he is not surprised and that this is more common than what I think.  I did some digging and turns out he is spot on. Check this article out, the story is not very different from mine.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, remember to just ask!

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Experiences, Hari Katha, Learnings, Research, Writing

Annual exam

Hari will have his first standardized test for the year tomorrow. The learning and practice for the test has happened over the academic year at school. Additional preparation at home is neither required nor expected. I have not spent a minute coaching the child at home.

Tomorrow’s assessment will be long composition. A writing prompt will be given based on which children will have to write a two-page essay. Most of the school day will be spent in writing a first draft and editing it before it can be finalized. The essay will be graded based on idea development, organization and use of rich language.

This was last year’s writing prompt.

You are finally old enough to baby-sit, and your first job is this afternoon! You will be spending the entire afternoon with a one-year-old. When you open the door you realize that instead of watching a one-year-old child, you will be watching a one-year-old elephant!Write a story about spending your afternoon with a baby elephant. Give enough details to show readers what your afternoon is like baby-sitting the elephant. 

And here’s description of the essay that got the perfect score. I am not reproducing the essay here, but check out the comments to give a sense for what’s expected – pretty sophisticated writing, I would say!

This richly developed and carefully organized composition begins with the engaging introduction, “‘WOO-HOO!’ I’m finally old enough to baby-sit!” and immediately draws the reader into an unfolding adventure. The plot continues to develop as it is discovered that the object of this babysitting adventure is an elephant from a family zoo. Effective description of the elephant follows with phrases such as “with ears too big for her head” and “all I could see at the moment was a gray lump wriggling around and trumpeting loudly.” The voice of the writer is apparent as the audience experiences the feeding of this “cutie-pie.” Subtly, the writer strategically places her salad recipe on the counter, leaving it to play a later part in the conclusion. After lunch, the story continues to the backyard kiddie pool where splashing and bathing prove exhausting. The writer uses effective word choice to show that the job is not that easy: “She cried and twisted, yelped and pulled. I put up a fight sometimes, but this was one tough elephant!” It is evident that the relationship between the two deepens in the writer’s thoughts: “she snuggled up to my hand,” “wow, she is adorable,” and “I pulled up her blankets and patted her head.” There is an effective interaction of dialogue between the sitter and the family when they arrive home, as everyone is shushing everyone else in an effort to keep the “baby” sleeping. The writer is praised and invited to babysit the next Saturday. Suddenly, the salad recipe left on the counter is of great interest to the mother. She would like to use it to make a salad to feed “the other herbivores at the zoo.” She also notes, “[G]et rid of the hay[,] add some chicken and almonds and you’ve got a salad for the rest[a]urant!” The writer’s conclusion finishes with the clever comment, “Well, as for the other animal I’m sitting for on Saturday, I’m praying it’s not a tiger. A monkey would be nice though.”

I have always felt like I can get better at writing by following tips taught at Hari’s school. They are taught to have a strong beginning, a powerful ending, to appeal to all the senses , to use vivid words, and what not. I love love how writing is taught in schools here…!!!

Wish Hari all the very best for tomorrow.

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Experiences, Hari Katha, Introspection, Learnings, Research

Culture Day and Tamil Day

Today was a day of celebration at Sunday school. For culture day, kids were required to do a project on a topic related to the culture curriculum. Hari chose to do a monopoly board game based on the Mahabharata. He labored on it for two full days and loved every moment of it. The picture below does not do justice to the details. We (mostly the child, the parents were pretty much his sounding board) poured over the classic game and tailored every detail to make it relevant to the epic. The kingdoms captured in the BharatVarsha map formed the places, the utilities (railroads, waterworks, etc.) were substituted by weapons (gadha, bow and arrow etc.), treasure chest and community cards were renamed as boons and curse, and points were assigned based on barter system and so much more. My personal favorite is the four corners (go on exile, stay in gurukula, cross river ganga, chariot rest).

monopoly

Today was also Tamil day, for which Hari recited four Thirukurals along with their respective meaning. We labored on it for several hours over several days and it was brutal on him. Whether or not I find this exercise meaningful, it made Hari and I marvel at the power of practice – with every repetition, there was tangible improvement, and you realize that you have to hang in there, and do what it takes. No shortcuts. None at all. This morning after completing his turn, the look on his face was priceless. He had given it his best shot, and it showed!

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