A bouquet of flowers picked along the way ….

The little things July 23, 2011

Filed under: Children,family,Me — gurdas @ :

It is the little things about parenthood that I find endearing. And in no little way they announce what is now behind and what lies ahead.

Synopsis – yes. Title – yes. Cast – yes. Director – yes. Genre – yes. Motion picture rating – no. I do not recall ever paying attention to the ‘suitable for’ rating of a movie. All that is starting to change as I go from single to a full time father of a 11 year old. Today, as I browsed the “what’s showing” list for a local theater, I paid attention to the G, PG, etc. And I had to visit Wikipedia to find out the definition  🙂


the volunteer proctor who got paid in gold May 14, 2011

Filed under: Children,life,love,Me — gurdas @ :

Being around kids make me happy. Specially when they are aged 5 to 10. I find that age group old enough to have a conversation. And young enough to display marvel and surprise me.

And then there is this desire to be a part of the local community, to receive and give love, and to contribute in an organic way.

So, when East Cary MS (ECMS) asked for volunteers to proctor their end of grade tests I grabbed the opportunity. To contribute while I would get to be around kids in their natural setting was just too good to pass. I had to undergo a 1-hour proctor training where we were informed of our responsibilities and testing regulations. I missed my first training appointment due to a schedule clash but made it good on the second one, which was May 9. I was one of 6 volunteers being trained that day. And I was the only non-American. As we went through the motions I could not but compare to what I have experienced in India. The two systems could not be more different. The system in India is a little bit of rules and mostly human. The American system is completely driven by rules, highly efficient, but somewhat robotic. For example, to ensure every kid takes the exact same test, the class teacher will read instructions from a book. Such as “I will now give you answer sheets”. Yes, she will not say that in her own words. She will read that from a printed text. And every teacher in every school across the state will say the exact same words. And, the teacher cannot explain in her own words if something is misunderstood! All she can do is repeat what is written. I thought this was taking it too far. There is no way any two kids will be taking the same exam. Because they did not have the same morning, the same parents or the same worries, to name a few things. One of them might have witnessed an angry fight between parents last night, while another could have gone for a movie with the parents. Some of the other rules that caught my attention : (a) students who do not finish in the stipulated time can continue to take the test and (b) if you’ve closed your test booklet at the end of stipulated time you cannot open it again even though other students might continue to work on theirs.

That said, a few of the rules may be silly but nothing very damaging. The merits far outweigh the silliness. The uniformity does help keep things equal. The Proctor’s Guide that I had to read can be found here.

With the training done, I was all set to proctor  🙂 which I did these last two days. I had to be at the exam center by 7:30 am and the test would start by 8 am. I proctored during the Math Active (when they can use calculators) and Math Inactive (no calculators) exams. I returned from the experience a rich man, who feels he has been paid in gold. What marvellous kids! My class had 18 children. Gender wise, 12 boys and 6 girls. Ethnicity wise, about ten whites, four blacks, two Indians, one Mexican, and one that I cannot place.

During the exam, which lasted 3 hours on day one and 1.5 hours on day two, I had to walk around the room and make sure the kids were answering in the correct section, not out of step, or cheating. I did not have to worry at all about the last. Note that I can only notice and point out any irregularities to the class teacher, Ms. Ruff, an impeccably dressed and smiling middle aged lady. Overall, I did a good job and managed to catch a few students who had gone out of step. The answer sheet had choices that students have to circle. And sometimes they are marking the correct answer choice against the wrong question.

As expected, each of the 18 students demonstrated very distinct test taking strategy and behaviour. Some were slow and meticulous, others fast and impatient. Some bright, some not so bright. Some neat, other untidy (in how they worked). Kids that finished the exam before time would start drawing on scrap sheets handed earlier. And they could ask for more sheets. The boys and girls demonstrated distinct gender differences, too. The boys were drawing monsters, streets, writing their own name, block/patters/abstract designs, helicopters, shoes, aliens, excavators, and robotic faces. The girls drew flowers, superheroes (female), and decorative patterns. Some of the boys had pencil graphite all over their hands and needed wet wipes to clean up, some wanted to talk, and many wanted to show other boys their art work. The girls would draw or sit silently, be impatient to leave, or fiddle with their calculators.

However, they were all well disciplined. Ms. Ruff must have done her duties rather well! Oh, and she was great in making them feel active and ready for the exam. Between 7:30 and 8, she’d make them do some exercises and towards the end darken the room while they close their eyes and relax. Great technique! She smiled often and spoke softly but firmly. The kids did not hesitate to approach her, trusted her, and accepted her answers. I would be happy having Ms. Ruff in charge of my child!

I was almost sad leaving the test center yesterday knowing that I won’t be back the next day. I have a few more days of proctoring with ECMS in June. And I have offered to volunteer with Davis Drive Middle School this coming week. I hope they call me to volunteer. If they knew how much I like hoarding this kind of gold they’d know I would gladly pay to be a volunteer  🙂


Haiku – child January 10, 2011

Filed under: Children,Me,poetry — gurdas @ :

four children playing

one smaller than the rest

is also the eldest


giving thanks November 25, 2010

Filed under: Ethics and Values,Inspiration,life,love,Me,philosophy — gurdas @ :

Thank You

To those who did not help, for introducing me to life
To those who helped, for upholding my belief in humanity

To those who were impatient, for helping me practice patience
To those who were patient, for giving me the space to be and become

To those who were weak, for the opportunity to be strong (for you)
To those who were strong, for inspiring me

To those who were dishonest, for the examples that it is just not worth it
To those who were honest, for telling me it is worth it

To those who were unkind, for testing my ideals (and hopefully I lived up to them)
To those who were kind, for encouraging me to be the same

To those who did not love, for the moments of soul searching
To those who were loving, for showing me the only way to live


the joy of darkness November 18, 2010

Filed under: Children,India,Me,nostalgia — gurdas @ :

Mann Hall, third floor

Mann Hall, which houses the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering was plunged into “darkness” for a few hours today due to a transformer failure. In the two and a half years I have been here this is the first such incident. And it was tons of fun! No internet and spooky corridors. There was enough light in the corridors and rooms with windows while some of the inner rooms, like my office, did not. During my stay here, I have experienced Mann Hall every possible hour of the day. Some day I was here at 9 pm, another day at 1 am, and yet another day at 5 am. Yes, every one of those 24 hours. And I have never ever seen the corridors without man made light. Until today. It felt eerie for a moment, as if the building had been killed. But within no time, I was having fun, working in the dark, experiencing the corridors, or just chit chatting with fellow researchers about this “event”.

And my mind wandered to younger days in India when load shedding was a commonly heard phrase. It would be 8 pm and the young me would be reluctantly struggling with boring history texts when suddenly, poof!, we’d be thrown into darkness. In that split second following power outage, I know for sure, every child’s face was lit with joy. If our teeth had any irradiance it might have blinded our families, such was the total number of teeth flashing across the neighbourhood. With peals of laughter we’d spill into the streets outside and start playing. History was history and the present was running amok or hiding, depending on the game. We’d continue till power was restored and our mothers would call for us to come home. Exams were an exception because it meant studying under the flickering light of a lamp or a candle; we had battery operated electric lights only later.

City life is mostly artificial and insulates us from relishing the natural joys abound around us . So much so that we are bereft of the amazement that comes from looking at a star studded sky. “Lights out” restored some of that balance. And in those hours of darkness I had some of my brightest moments.


Love Care Responsibility August 22, 2010

Filed under: family,love,Me,women — gurdas @ :

Rakhi and accompanying letter from my sister

I was 9ish when she got married. So, I have no real memories of her from my younger years. Except some grainy recollections of her as the stern teacher at home. As I collected years, the bond between us metamorphosed. I went from young child to teenager to young adult to a brother. Yes, it took me a good 25 years to become my sister’s brother. Because only by the time I was 25 did our 11 year age difference stopped making a difference.

Somewhere along the way a few traditions got established, just like that. On her birthday, I would send her a personalised card. And she would send me a rakhi every year. It did not matter whether we were in different cities, countries, or continents. And just like in the past, this year too, my rakhi arrived well in time. But what makes this one more special than any before is not just the few thousand miles it has travelled but the letter that accompanies it. For this is the first time, I am being reminded of my duties towards my sister – love, care, and responsibility. Letters and the words printed on them have a surreal permanence to them. As I read the letter I witnessed the faith my sister reposes in me. For it takes nothing less than complete love and trust and the conviction of having done your duties to demand love like you deserve it. I can only hope to give back a fraction of what my sister has already given me.

And for being given the opportunity to do that, I must say I am blessed.


Bundles of joy August 4, 2010

Filed under: Children,love,Me — gurdas @ :

Pari and Soumya

Kids make the world a better place. And they make me very happy! They learn from us, but they also teach us if we accept the role of a pupil. I believe making friends with younglings is an art of the heart. They speak a different language – it has a grammar and a syntax different from adultspeak. So, some unlearning is required. And lots of patience. From my little experience I find that almost every kid out there is eager to find a friend in you. The problem is adults want kids to like them as adults. That is not how you start!

I see strong similarities in kids and pets (specially dogs). They are hungry for love. And they want to play with you. How you approach them is very important. The way I do it is present myself as available and waiting. You cannot demand friendship! To exemplify, I draw upon two recent experiences. The first was during my visit to London. I had a gift for a four and a half year old boy. He wanted the gift but His Highness was adamant about two things – one, he did not like me and two, he did not feel like saying “thank you”. Sufficient effort was made but the kid would not budge (no surprises there). The way I saw it was simple. The child was saying “see, if you want to be friends you will have to do more than just give me a gift”. I bid my time. After the persuasion from other adults had died down and the kid had time alone with the gift, I walked over to him and told him about this story behind the gift. Doesn’t he want to know about it? He sure did. Twenty seconds and an impromptu story later, he gladly said thank you and gave me a hug. We were friends.

The other incident happened when I recently met Soumya, a friend’s soon-to-be-four daughter. She walked into the room and we looked at each other. I think I said something like this “Hello! What is your name?” to which she replied “Soumya”. I then said, “Lovely! I’d love to talk to you. Can we do that? to which she replied “no” with a shake of her head. Hmmm… talk of hitting a wall! So, I went back to my chair. But I kept stealing glances at her, and she would do the same. I would tilt my head and smile. She picked the cues and it soon became a game (by the way, this is my favorite first trick). And that is exactly my point. If I were to go back and become an adult, the kid will take a lot longer to connect. Kids love games . They also appreciate when they are taken seriously. It is kind of an oxymoron. They want you to talk to them as if they are responsible adults. But they also want you to play with them. In the picture above, Soumya has this umbrella opened for no reason at all. Aren’t kids amazing? Would an adult ever do that – enjoy an umbrella? No, we open umbrellas only when it is raining and we hardly ever pay attention to the fact that umbrellas are rather pretty. But kids are not chained by adult limitations. Their world is full of sights and sounds that poor adults miss out. To get a child interested in you, all you have to do is get interested in ‘their world’. Soumya and I became fast friends over the next few minutes. She was an easy child to befriend – shy but responsive. And she gave me the best compliment possible when she allowed me to feed her dinner. Though that did not go well with Pari, the other kid in the group, who insisted to be fed by me even though she was not hungry. So, I had these two kids sitting on either side eating spoonfuls served by me. Bliss!

In a few days, I am going to face my toughest test ever. I have been invited to talk about Indian culture to a class of American preschoolers (4 to 5 years old). I have never interacted with kids in a classroom setting and so I am full of nervous excitement. Holding the attention of sixteen kids for twenty minutes is not going to be easy. Will post here how I fared.