Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Raising Modern Hindu Children Overseas – A perspective

 Nothing is more scrutinized, criticized, debated or written about as parenting today. The world appears to obsess around raising the perfect generation and that has given rise to an entire ecosystem of child welfare ministries to specialists, pediatric nutritionists, therapists, pedodontics, and psychiatrists. And yet 10-20% of children and adolescents worldwide are afflicted with mental disorders. The challenges and complexities of modern societies has only compounded the anxiety levels of parenting. At times of intense stress and confusion it is only prudent to fall back on the wisdom of our ancestors.

Followers of major world religions have clear guidelines with prescribed do’s and don’ts which at times also include the diet and attire. Hinduism, diverse as it is, is seen as a ‘way of life’ with no specific instructions nor any stringent process to follow. However, there are common parameters that cuts across caste, creed and even geography. Hindus despite worshipping several Gods understand they are but a manifestation of a single Brahman. Preference to a single deity (Ishta Devta) does not require a Hindu to disbelieve the rest. Along with a strong belief in the principles of Karma and reincarnation Hindus are set in the path of seeking self-liberation or moksha.

With people moving out of smaller towns into cities in India and those from cities moving to global destinations the traditional Indian family system is undergoing rapid changes. Toddlers and kids are being raised either in daycare or by maids. Growing children are spending more time online in social media and video games. While none of these generational changes can be reversed or wished away, Hindu parents can create a safety net for their children to remain connected to their civilizational roots while traversing the modern times with more confidence and ease.

So, where does one start?

Several learned Gurus and Swamiji’s of Hinduism, in their infinite wisdom, have suggested few basic tenets for Hindus to anchor their lives on. The three foundational tenets are Sloka, Sanskara and Seva. The good news is most Hindu families would be following one or more of these in their own unique way. The culture heritage and societal structure in India is designed in a way that children inevitably pick up these attributes either from school, peers or the community at large. These can be strengthened by consciously incorporating them within the family lifestyle. Celebrating festivals like Ganesha Chathurthi, Deepavali, Holi and nurturing traditional art forms like Bharatnatyam, classical music are innovative ways to impart Indic knowledge to the next generation.

Sloka: Sloka is the Sanskrit word for poetic verse, proverb, hymn uses a specific meter. Most of the famous Indian epics including the Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita are written in sloka format. Most Hindu families irrespective of caste and creed recite slokas as prayers. Many schools have slokas as a part of their morning prayer. The western world has recently woken up to the benefits of chanting, which apart from a number of other benefits reduces anxiety and depression.

Hinduism has a near infinite repository of Slokas and mantras. It is replete with slokas that range from philosophical, esoteric, motivational, to ecology related or that even gives practical advice and direction to young questioning minds. Parents of young children can start the practice of reciting a few easy slokas and mantras every day. Over 60 percent of vocabulary of Indian languages are said to originate from Sanskrit so with time the meanings of the slokas will become clearer and Sanskrit words would become easier to recite. Many slokas are set to melodious tunes and can be sung making it easier for kids to learn.

Sanskara: This is a broad term with no exact definition of what all entails as Sanskara or culture for a Hindu. Lighting a lamp every evening to a deity is Sanskaram, so it is to touch the feet of elders and seek ashirvadam or blessings. Sanskara is when you teach your child to see the divine manifested in everything from the innate to the most respected. Sanskara cannot be taught but is only emulated and it needs to be inculcated before it is passed on. As with everything in Hinduism there are several meanings, explanations, and stories. It is prudent to always explain the reasoning behind each action, so the lesson becomes memorable. When my father explained the significance of applying the vibhuti or sacred ash on the forehead, I no longer resented sporting it. He gave a simple explanation of how the vibhuti is a constant reminder of the temporariness of life and how we need to make the best use of our time on earth. It instills a sense of purpose in our life and serves as a visual cue to not take anything for granted. If actions can be reasoned with logic, philosophy or rationale it would become easier to address the doubts of inquisitive children.

Seva – Seva or service is an important facet in Hinduism but now finds more prominence in Sikhism and Buddhism. Its time Hindu children are taught the art of selfless service. In this age of instant gratification coupled with a sense of entitlement children do not understand what it is to give without getting something in return. Along with birthday celebrations parents can revive the tradition of offering Annadanam in temples and orphanages. Children should be encouraged to take up community and temple administration services.

Grooming children into responsible individuals is an important parental responsibility towards the society and towards the country. Individuals with strong Indic values will create a harmonious society with an appreciation for creation, an inherent quest for higher life purpose, willingness to contribute to the greater good, and making a positive impact on the world around. The basic step towards this begins at home.

First published in Honkong-Desi

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

India, Choose Your Leader Wisely

It was that time of the year when the animals of a jungle had to choose their new king. After several rounds of discussions it came down to choosing between a wise old owl and a burly lion.

The hyenas, foxes, coyotes and the vultures were highly in favor of a tawny lion being crowned the new king. This particular lion came from a dynasty of rulers, and lived in a pride with his mother and sister.

Just look at him cooed the peacock, “He already has the looks of a king!” The wolf grinned and said encouragingly, “Yes. And he will look after us all very well.” The bear agreed saying he can't think of any other animal with a more casual, uninterested attitude towards power so he must be the right one to take the coveted king's role.

The deer, elephants, rhinos, rabbits and other animals were a worried lot. They
felt the wise old owl with his wit and wisdom was a better choice. The jackals laughed at them, “The owl is a bad choice. He is perched high up on a tree far away from rest of us. He is neither the strongest nor does he come from an illustrious family like our lion.” The fox agitatedly exclaimed, “He is no intellectual and we consider him a dolt”

The gentle giraffe was thoughtful for a while and said, “The wise old owl stays up all night, he isn’t impulsive, and can inform us against untimely attacks. Maybe you aren’t able to relate to him but he can strike the perfect balance between the powerful and the meek”

The senior jackal solemnly said, “Man, himself, certifies the lion as the king of the jungle. And so it shall be.” The fawns cried indignantly, “But the man is not even a stakeholder of the jungle!” Their cries went unheard as the coterie of the jackals had started hailing the half-grown lion as their hero.

Disclaimer: This post is unrelated to the ongoing Indian elections #Elections2019
अप्रमत्तश्च यो राजा सर्वज्ञो विजितेन्द्रियः |
कृतज्ञो धर्मशीलश्च स राजा तिष्ठते चिरं ||

A successful leader or a ruler will imbibe the qualities of being considerate, ever-vigilant, all-knowing, can exercise control over his sensory organs and reign over his passion, gratitude towards his subjects, pious and religious and only such a person can successfully rule. 

Reposting from MyIndMakers

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why boredom must be a necessary part of childhood

"I am bored....I AM BORED...." - And that is a sentence most often used by children and one that terrorizes almost all parents. Come summer and every parent, working or non-working, draw a big face, sighing how hard their lives are going to turn. I am not judging anyone for I find myself on the very same boat.

My son wakes by 7:00 a.m and by 9:30 he has done painting, played with his play-doh, blocks and lego set are scattered, the toy train-set has been assembled, played with and now thrown in disarray. He promptly comes to me saying, "I am bored!".
And I watch in dismay thinking my morning has just started! The maids are yet to come, breakfast has just been made, the kitchen counter has to be cleared, laundry is stacking and am yet to enjoy a peaceful cup of coffee. Add siblings into the picture and you can be assured of further chaos, screams and squabbles. Screaming - mostly yours.

Most parents find a quick and easy solution to this - Summer Camps. Pack them off to summer camps where there's singing, dancing, and a lot of other stuff to do. Children come by noon, their energy expended ready for quick meal and a nap, giving the moms some much needed respite. There are friends of my 6 year old who have already enrolled in summer camps, art classes, karate classes twice a week, music lessons on Fridays and swim lessons during the weekend. And I kid you not.
To each their own - specially parenting style - but I have been pondering if this is the right way to deal with children and their summer holidays.

I don't remember going to any camps, but summer holidays meant chatting endlessly with friends, cycling around the neighbourhood, playing hop-scotch, hunting for some multi-colored weird looking insects, pleading mom for ice-creams and flavoured bottled milkshake treats and an occasional movie outing. All this not a day's event but dispersed over two months.

Summer holidays also meant getting bored. Yes, we got bored out of one's wits as we were not allowed to slouch before the television, we did not have iPADs and Temple Run's. So we had to devise our own ways to deal with spending the time on hand. I remember making up stories of our own, playing Name-Place-Animal-Thing game without using a paper and pen, creatively making toys of beads, leaves, sticks, ribbons, and what-not. We did not have an art teacher hovering over us and yet we made some wonderful pen stands out of old boxes, photo frames, scrap books filled with drawings etc. I remember writing my first Enid Blyton inspired short mystery novel during my 5th standard holidays.

In this age of instant gratification and sense of entitlement, most children are losing the virtue of patience, being creative without being told how to, and learning to think for themselves. Parents are also in a hurry to fulfill the smallest whims and fancies of their children in the fear of creating any unpleasant childhood memories. All this over eagerness is making life more complicated for both of us.

Penning all this down has made my resolve more clear. I am not going to take the easy route and send my children to any summer camp. Yes, they might be bored but out of boredom they will learn patience, to think for themselves and learn to creatively use their time. One day at a time. It's going to be hard on them and on me, especially with so many temptations in the form of TV and technology but I am going to try.

Wish me luck. :)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Wayanad - A Dreamy Paradise

Wayanad needs no fancy introduction. It is one of the popular holiday destinations of South India. A paradise of lush green tea plantations, old-styled cottages, winding roads, smiling locals, and a Malabar cuisine that shouldn't be missed. Also it makes for a great place to vacation around Bangalore for young parents with infants or toddlers in tow.

Travelling with children, especially toddlers, is a little tedious and needs some planning. However, a little research will throw open a lot of ideas and options. While we wanted something exotic (read rustic living) for our older son to experience, we didn't want to compromise on simple comforts for the sake of our younger one. After a little search we settled for the tree house model at Coffee County Resorts, Wayanad and we returned quite glad with the choice made.

Route we took from Bangalore -

Bangalore > Mysore > Nanjangud > Gundulupet > Sulthan Bathery > Kalpetta > Meppadi

It took us close to 7-8 hours including a few stops we made for the 310 kms. Roads are good and very scenic.


The main attraction for our kid was the tree house itself. While it is not an actual tree house, the resort cottages are situated pretty much high above a mountain amidst a grove of trees below. Thus giving it a very real feel of being in a tree house. Small consolation that we managed to keep up our word with a very-hard-to-convince 5 year old!

Secondly there is a very inviting plunge pool, just outside the cottage. The kids and hubby went straight and plonked themselves in the pool and hours later had to be dragged out of it. The pool is a great idea but is also a major distraction for stubborn toddlers who can't be left unattended. Moreover the water is at times icy cold with no provision of hot water. However, fun it is. :)

If the kids are slightly older or if you are upto it, you can take walks around the tea plantations, or go for the wild safari (7-9:00 a.m. or the 3-4:00 p.m.), visit the Edakkal caves, local temples etc.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Do We Have Gender Diversity Among Teachers in Schools?

I had been to a science fair recently at my son's preschool. Yes, they have science fairs for 4-5 year old's these days with exhibits/charts and the tots also explain concepts like rain-water harvesting or the water movement in plants with elan.
A group of parents got around discussing the dedication of teachers that was apparent and their commitment in educating our little ones. And we observed how there were no male teachers except for the Physical Fitness Trainer. A small impromptu questioning also made us realize that this was true to smaller niche playschools and day care centers. Am not sure if this stands true in a wider cross-section of the Indian society but I am also unable to recollect seeing any male teacher in any of the preschool chains I visited.
Interestingly there were a set of parents who expressed that it would not be possible for men to display this level of patience in managing preschoolers, while yet some parents outright said they would not be comfortable with a male teacher for their toddlers. Few also opined on how a male teacher in a preschool will be a risk or a big liability to the management.
Has the present climate of harassment's, sexual incidents, and rape cases created more distrust among the two genders and creating a wider gulf? Why are there so few men who come out to teach pre-schoolers, while there are many math & science teachers and lecturers for higher classes? 
Has it been accepted as a fact that teaching young ones has to be the prerogative of a woman alone? Or could it simply be a case of such professional roles not being lucrative enough monetarily for a primary (needless to add male) wage earner?