Monday, September 13, 2010

Impossible is...


Handstitched cotton shoulder bag with jute backing, sisal handle and embellishments. Handpainted kingfisher on front pocket.  Made by Namitha (September 2010)
For some reason, the only phrases that come in to mind at this moment are advertising slogans like Kodak moment, "Priceless" as in the Mastercard ad, and "Impossible is Nothing" which my son tells me is from Adidas.

Sometimes words irritate me, it can be anything, even just the syntax which really gets on my nerves. The words get all jumbled up in my brain and rearrange themselves into some  memory unearthed from the past.

"Impossible is Nothing" is a classic example. It always gets rearranged into "Nothing is Impossible", and from there, it's just one way street for me. I have to get up, get into my Sister Act avatar and become part of an imaginary gospel choir singing "Nothing is impossible when you put your trust in God...".

All this is a throwback to my two years in a boarding school in Bangalore. By default, given their presence on the school campus 24/7/365, thanks to parents being abroad or in a different city, the girls who lived  in the hostel were coopted into the school choir. This made it easy for them to called for practice early in the morning for school assemblies and special events like annual functions, Easter and Christmas. There were many advantages to this, of course some expeditions to the outside world and visits to other schools, besides of course occasionally, official sanction to escape from class and spend time practising for special events. We had a hymn book which we used, and for special events we'd practise all those classic numbers like Oh for the wings of a dove... and Partrides in a Pear Tree.

I still lustily break out into song when some of these phrases pop up during conversation.  If you are wondering how doves and partridges could feature in everyday conversation, you obviously have no idea what we are about...this family has birds in its belfry.

Anyway to get back to my scintillating brush with choral singing, there was this time when we had to form two rows of singers facing each other with the choir mistress Miss Fritchley in the centre. I think we were practising singing in parts. Be that as it may, girls will be girls and a little fifth grader called Harsha kept making faces at the opposite row whenever Miss F had her back to her row. Unfortunately for me, I couldn't quite wipe the giggle off my face when Miss F turned to face us, and she immediately thought that I was the instigator and told me to leave the choir and never return or some such pronouncement.

Naturally, I was extremely upset at being wrongly accused, and I tried to convince myself that I was better off without choir practice. But as the little girl Harsha was in the hostel, a few well-meaning classmates of mine went up to her and insisted that she confess to Miss F. And this great confession happened about a fortnight or so later. I was unaware of all this background drama -- I was too busy being British without being British.

And one morning when I was just walking in the corridor before school began (no doubt after another of those breakfasts with disgusting cold fried eggs, which we'd have to smuggle out in our pockets for the campus dogs), Miss F came up to me and gave me a cheerful hug and said  "I'm sorry child, I believe that you were not at fault.." etc etc. I accepted the apology without much change in expression (I modelled myself after William in the Richmal Crompton books at the time). The next thing she said was "Would you like to come back to the choir?" and I just said No. It was clear that all the lessons in forgiveness and other moral values were no match against the mutinous and wilful girl that I was  at the time. I think William would have reacted in the same way.

Perhaps it was the resentment I felt that an adult should have been more circumspect before accusing the first person they saw? Perhaps it was a case of impulsiveness on my part and I might have answered differently if I'd had some time to consider the invitation to return?

In any case, the choir was without one member for the rest of the term, after which I became a day scholar anyway. I did actually miss that lusty singing in anonymity, it signified carefree abandon with every syllable.  Every now and then, I lapse into song whenever a  catch phrase pops up, and there is a seasonality to it. In summer it will be "Go no more a'rushing maids in May..", and it will include those sad numbers like "Fill my cup Lord" when I am particularly low. It doesn't matter who is around.  With time it has become an accepted part of family life and I am tolerated like some kind of aging budgie coming to life when the northern breeze ruffles its feathers or some such similie.

Which brings me back to Impossible is...Nothing. The reason this particular syntax does not gel is the air of arrogance it carries which is just NOT ME. Normally. Yet, it might just sum up this bag which signifies doing something against all odds.  Not really known for my sewing skills, and with plenty of witnesses over decades who would testify to this, I actually handstitched this bag, with jute backing, with all the embellishments,and found time to paint a little blue kingfisher on a separate pocket. If I had to choose between the hymn "Nothing is Impossible when you put your trust in God" and the slogan "Impossible is ...Nothing", I would choose the latter just for a brief while today. I also ask for forgiveness for my distinct lack of humility.

Treasure map

I love some of the little assignments that Anant brings home. Some of them are serious explorations to encourage the children to record their observations. Others are complementary to their lessons. Like this one on making an ancient treasure map, a simple fun optional activity to convey the importance of maps and mapping that appears in a lesson in social studies. I wonder if there is a child who wouldn't want to do this activity. It doesn't take much time, and helps the child organise his/her work better, because they have to finish their homework before the fun work obviously.  I feel these weekday activities are really important for the children, much more than those lengthy projects given during summer.

Step 1: Treat the paper to create a faux ancient effect

Use slightly thick handmade paper, at least thicker than the standard printer paper. Tear edges to make the paper appear old. Crumple it and flatten it out. Ask any adult around to make some tea decoction (OK, they can drink some if they want). Ask them to make it really as strong as possible. Pour it into a cake tin and let it cool.

Swirl the paper around in the tea decoction and press down on it with a brush. (Photo by Namitha)

Place the sheets/s of paper one at a time into this decoction. Press over the creases with a thick brush. You can even scratch on it lightly with the handle of the brush. Swirl the paper. It takes about half an hour to develop a light tint. Keep it for longer if necessary. Place sheets between sheets of clean paper to dry.

Remove the paper from the tray and place between sheets of clean paper. (Photo by Anant)

Step 2: Creating the treasure map. 

Sketch the treasure map on a rough sheet of paper. When the design is final, draw it lightly with pencil on the dried "ancient" parchment, and use a fineliner pen to draw the final version. It might be a good idea to use a brown pen to add to the aged look. As you can see we made do with black. You can add 3 D objects while presenting the project. You are only limited by time and imagination. In fact, this might be a great idea for designing a board game.

Don't be surprised to find elements that the child is especially fond  of or which signify "treasure and mystery"  popping in here and there. Skeletons, ghosts, monsters... anyone?  Here is a Anant's version of the map to find Red Rackham's treasure. The little treasure chest was conjured up using cardboard, an old glittery invitation card, and odds and ends found in my craft box.  (Photo by Namitha)

Driving in the city

Close your eyes and you could be on Marine Drive, Mumbai? Marina Beach, Chennai? Kerala? No, we thought we'd just stay in Delhi -- this is the  River Yamuna, or to be more precise, the inundated flood plain as photographed on Sunday September 12 2010. (Photo by Dipak)
Another view of the river's flood plain. (Photo by Anant)

Crowds of people line the ITO Bridge watching the river. Not our regular Sunday haunt, but just because it was such an unusual sight. (Photo by Dipak)
Another view of the river Yamuna. Swirling eddies. Some serious motion here. (Photo by Dipak)

Another view of Delhi. Check out the piece of political graffiti on the signal box. It is of Irom Sharmila, the lady on a hunger strike.  Interesting combination of a stencil (?) of a rose combined the image of  the strong-willed lady (Photo taken from the car by Anant)

After the long drive, it was time to grab some sand-roasted corn. The corn cobs are buried in hot sand with the husk. And they are sold with a small packet of spice mixture and lemon. (Photo by Namitha)

Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesha the elephant God. Right: A tiny figurine picked up from Rishikesh which is moulded around an areca nut. Possibly Plaster of Paris. The one on the left has been made by Anant and modelled on the one on the right. Medium: Italian quick hardening clay. Painted with acrylic paints. Both have their place in the altar on the occasion of the festival of the elephant God, Ganesh Chaturthi on September 11 2010.
For the two of us, heaven is a store filled with stationery and art supplies, preferably with a counter for dessert and a bookstore under the same roof. A couple of years ago we discovered a lovely store called Hobby Ideas in Indiranagar, Bangalore. We bought a few packets of this polymer clay in different shades of white and green...besides a whole lot of other materials. The shop subsequently disappeared from there, but I discovered some of their retailed products in Staples in  Bangalore earlier this year. The thing about the air drying clay is that it comes shrink-wrapped somewhat like a packet of dates. How does one break off bit without it drying up and going to waste because children do take a while to get their tiny fingers used to it? My tip is that before the child gets into the act, break off a test piece of the clay and immediately seal the rest in cling film or some other shrink wrap. Then just check out how long this lump of clay takes to harden when exposed to air. You will then be able to give the child a clear picture of how long it takes to harden, and they will be able to work happily without you breathing down their backs.  Give the child about quarter of a packet at a time and wrap the rest. I've also found that the raw clay is quite hard, and we used a few drops of water to make it into plasticine consistency.  Perhaps this could be tested out also with a small lump of clay.