The Cup That Bonded

So the newest management mantra is FIKA. This is a Swedish word that roughly translates as drinking coffee, munching homemade goods and spending time with people. In many companies it is mandatory for all workers to have a designated time during the day to sit down and do fika. Most Swedes have Fika several times a day.

Over two decades before Chai pe Charcha became the flavour of the nation, CpC was an integral part of our working day. Twice a day, as the footsteps heralded the bearer of the teas, it was literally and (later) figuratively ‘pens down’. Time to cluster around and “fika” as it were. It was a time for sharing—news and views, happenings and unhappenings (propah English not mandatory, and language khichdi quite delicious!), cribbings and crabbings–and above all, energising. There were snacks too—“hey taste what I baked yesterday,” “oh great, banana chips all the way from home state”, “guess what, I discovered this new naasta shop with 50 flavours of khakhra….”

Tea table became the venue for easing in the newcomers; teasing and ribbing the old-timers; there were no hierarchies and no bosses. The agenda was whatever the mood of the table—sharing, admonishing, admiring, agonising and venting, and yes, laughing a lot.

It was an important support system in so many ways. After just 15 minutes, one returned to one’s desk feeling much better. You weren’t the only one who struggled to keep going as you juggled work and home; your child’s behaviour was not as worrisome as you imagined it was; and yes, in-laws happened to the best of us!

It was not only about chit-chat and food; it was where serious discussions took place—about work and work culture; about the state of the world and the nation; about books read and films seen, people met and to be met. It was where so many “aha” moments happened—the title of a new book; the resource person to invite; the sequence of sessions for the seminar…

The two tea times were the significant watersheds of our daily schedules. I did not realise how much we took this for granted, until I spent three months working from an office in Washington DC. Everyone was so “busy”–each communing with their machines as they sipped their coffees (also from a machine) in silence, and lunch sandwiches in solitary isolation. I craved so much for some human connect and communication, I took myself off, to perhaps some raised eyebrows, to the nearby park to spend 20 minutes watching the world go by. “Time wasted”, my diligent workmates may have thought; “what wasted opportunities to bond” thought I.

It’s not just in a CCD that a lot can happen over a cup of tea!


Trash Toy Story

The Matriarchs were groomed in the eighties with regard to ideologies, ideals, ideas and their chosen vocation—education and what is today called sustainable development. There were many khadi-clad people who inspired them and several of their generation. One such inspiration was Dr. Arvind Gupta, who received the Padma Shri last week.

Arvind Gupta, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur, has dedicated his life to popularizing science and making science education accessible–through demonstrating how everyday, low-cost materials can be used to teach science. His core belief is that children learn best ‘by touching, feeling, cutting, sticking — pulling things apart, putting them apart..’ and his mission is to empower educators to create simple toys and educational experiments using locally available materials—the ‘Toys from Trash’ approach.

We stand testimony to the fact that adults too find this fascinating—I can recall informal sessions at our Centre, where he would enthrall  all of us with a series demonstrations using drinking straws, balloons, ball-pen refills, match sticks, rubber bands etc., and suddenly things we had learnt years ago in our science classes, made sense at last!

In today’s world, when we increasingly think that quality education means high-tech, high-cost kits and labs and aids, the Padma Shri should in fact reinforce the message that quality education has little to do with money, and much more to do with the ingenuity, creativity and commitment of educators and teachers. A good way to encapsulate his message to educators is his motto:

‘The whole world is a garbage pit
Collect some junk and make a kit.’

Thank you Arvindji, from two people you have inspired!


PS: Do view his TED Talk: Turning Trash into Toys for learning, rated among the best education related TEDs by many.




Over 35 years ago, when I spent two years living in Nairobi, my sister Seema, then a young zoology student came to visit. Among the souvenirs she picked up from the local market was a potholder made of cane that was shaped like a frog. After that trip, wherever she went, it was almost as if frogs were jumping out from everywhere, urging to be picked up! Frogs in all materials, shapes, sizes and poses. And so, Seema became a ‘frog collector’! It also made it easy for friends and family to find her a gift. Over the years, the frog artefact collection grew and grew till her house was bursting at the seams with frogs big and small. One day the thought came, how could this be shared with more people, and what would be the purpose of the sharing? Over a couple of years, and a combination of fortuitous circumstances, this idea metamorphosed into FrogFest.

FrogFest began as a brainchild of Seema’s old school friend Aditya Arya whose creative mind has always leapt way ahead of the average plodders and hoppers. Let’s do an exhibition called FrogArt, he said. With his vast experience in photography and exhibit design, he offered to curate the show. That done, it worked out that WWF offered to host the display. This was indeed serendipity! WWF was where Seema began her professional life as a volunteer (while still a college student). What better way to “give back” to an institution that was the first to nurture what became a lifelong passion (as well as vocation) for biodiversity and conservation!

Then came the challenge—how to use the frog artefacts to highlight the larger issues of amphibian conservation; how to creatively bridge the traditional gap between Art and Science? Seema invited me to join the team as co-curator, to apply my experience as an environmental educator. After six months of being steeped in all matters Batrachian (along the way we discovered that the study of frogs was known as Batrachology!) we were ready to launch FrogFest—Celebrating Frogs in Art and Nature.

As the name suggests, FrogFest focuses on the amazingly diverse interpretations of a single element of nature–the frog! It showcases Seema Bhatt’s personal collection of frog artefacts from over 40 countries, including a rendering of frogs in folk art, as well as contemporary art by young artists.

The display of the artefacts and art is supported by a series of panels that highlight the fascinating aspects of frogs, and the conservation significance of frogs in nature. Far from the dusty tomes of academic journals, the visual-rich and reader-friendly panels also offer a peep into the fascinating world of frogs in India and the important initiatives to conserve them.These have been supported and enriched with expert inputs from Dr S.D. Biju and Dr Gururaja, India’s foremost amphibian scientists.


The bridge between art and nature is further strengthened by the organisation and display of artefacts. For example, where the panel describes the role of colour in frogs in Nature, there is also a display of nearly a hundred frog artefacts, made from glass, ceramic, clay, stone and more, with vibrant colours, along with a ‘Frogtoid’ that reminds that while artists have let their imagination run riot, nature has bestowed frogs with a colour palette on which their very survival depends (attracting mates, warning predators).


With its brilliant interweaving of the facts and fun FrogFest offers a feast for the senses. It also provides food for thought by putting the spotlight on the Frog. At a time when the focus of wildlife conservation is primarily on charismatic ‘megafauna’, there is a dire need to reflect on the conservation of smaller, but equally significant fauna around us. While frogs may not always hit the headlines as the ‘Superstars’ of the grand epic of nature, they are no less fascinating, and indeed, no less important in the Web of Life.

FrogFest is on at WWF India, 172-B Lodi Road, New Delhi till the end of April 2018.


At the Gym

Designer derrieres

And sculpted six-packs

Designer track suits

And funky shoes

Designer keto shakes

And salads and bakes


Hunks who could strut into

A wrestling rink

And girls who could walk

On any ramp


And then the four or five of us

Desperately battling mid-life bulges

Sagging muscles

Unruly paunches


As if that were not enough

I had to overhear this yesterday:
One PYT to another:

‘All the uncles and aunties in my office

Are damn inspired by me, yaar

They all want to start coming to the gym

You know, all those 35-year old ancients.’


And I picked up

My 55-year old face and muscles

And slunk out.


-Meena Raghunathan

P.S: written a few years ago!

World Meteorology Day: A Tribute to the Father of Indian Meteorology, Dr. P.R Pisharoty

He is the one of whom Sir C.V. Raman said: ‘I would include Mr. Pisharoty in a short-list of the ablest men I have ever had working with. His personal and intellectual qualities are such as to enable him successfully to undertake the highest type of scientific and administrative work.’

Dr. Pisharoty was not just the father of Indian Meteorology, he was a world authority as well. He pushed for the use of Numerical Weather Prediction in India and if today, we have the capacity to do fairly good short, medium and long term weather forecasts, it can be traced back to the foundations he laid.

Dr. Pisharoty was called the ‘Rain Man’ of india—it is he who fully understood the nature of the Indian Monsoon, and it is this understanding which should underpin our thinking on water conservation and management. He pointed out that rains in India are very different in nature to rains anywhere else. India gets 400 million hectare meters of rain annually, with a landmass of 329 million hectares—enough to submerge our land under 1.29 meters of water per year if spread evenly. But there are areas is India with rainfall as low as 200 mm per year and areas with rainfall as high as 11,400 mm per year. Moreover, the rain in India, unlike in Europe, falls within a very short time. There are parts of India where the entire quota of annual rainfall is received in just 100 hours. Hence he pointed out, the critical need for understanding the local patterns, and for proper planning for water management. With such planning and husbanding he maintained, even the lowest rainfall area of the country could have enough drinking water throughout the year.

He was given the responsibility of exploring the use of remote sensing for India, and when he succeeded in using remote sensing to detect coconut root wilt disease in the late 1960s, the foundation for remote sensing was laid in the country.

We, the Millennial Matriarchs, had the privilege of being mentored by Dr. Pisharoty, as a member of the Governing Council of our organization. He must have been over 75 years old when we first met him (he went to office every day till the age of about 85!). We used to be sent to this giant for getting ‘scientific validation’ of the educational material we developed. The enthusiasm he had for each and every project, the wisdom he imparted ever so gently, the Sanskrit slokas he would quote to bring out a point, the patience with which he put up with rooky, cocky youngsters—the memory of it still gives me goose bumps. Dr. Pisharoty was also a member of all our promotion review committees. The twinkle in his eyes would set us at ease and put life in perspective.  I think we were too young and foolish to appreciate how privileged we were.

My deepest regret: Typical of the old school, he wrote and wrote—letters, articles, notes, comments. He once wrote me a note with an alternative interpretation of my name ‘Meenalochani’ in the Dikshiter composition ‘Meenakshi  Me Mudem’. In my various house-moves, I have misplaced it.

And two quotes from Dr. Pisharoty, which I will think on today :

‘The more you write, the better will be your handwriting; and the more you think, the sharper will be your intellect.’

‘Science is our profession as well as our life’s hobby. Government is paying us for our hobby. Amount of money which we get from the Government should not worry us very much; we are being paid for our hobby.’

Life as Poetry

For many of us a poem was something you learnt by heart and recited in a monotone before a bunch of relatives when urged by proud parents; or as you grew older, reproduced and analysed in the exam paper. The few of us that survived these stages went on to read and enjoy poetry. In all cases, poetry was always associated with something that came in and out of a book.

Many of us have not connected poetry to a living tradition. Poems were created by all sorts of people, poetry grew out of the experiences of life and living and reflected its rhyme and rhythm. It was a blend of the art and the craft of the potter, the weaver, the cowherd, the sisterhood of women who sewed together to create the most beautiful patterns.

As eloquently described, ‘Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings. Poetry is the mainstay of oral tradition and, over centuries, can communicate the innermost values of diverse cultures.’

To celebrate this power of poetry, UNESCO proclaimed 21 March as World Poetry Day. In celebrating this day we recognize the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind.

Sharing a poem that reflects this very spirit.


Last night when my work was done

And my estranged hands

Were becoming mutually interested

In such forgotten things as pulses,

I looked out of a window

Into the glittering night sky.

And instantly

I began to feather-stitch

A ring around the moon.

Hazel Hall   1921

Hazel Hall was an American poet and seamstress born in 1886. Paralysed at the age of 12, she was confined to a wheelchair. Her days were spent in an upstairs room her family house; she never left this room. To help support her mother and two sisters Hazel took in sewing and occupied herself with embroidering garments. She died in 1924.



In Pursuit of Happiness

March 20 has been celebrated as the International Day of Happiness following its proclamation, in 2013, by the General Assembly of the United Nations as a way to recognise the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world.

Bhutan gave us the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a new approach to development which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment. The Bhutanese government believes that every citizen’s pursuit of happiness is its main goal. This goal is actually enshrined in article 9 of the country’s constitution.

Another country that joined the race for happiness is Venezuela who has reportedly created a Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness in 2013.

In 2016 the UAE announced a National Happiness and Positivity Programme which consists of five pillars: the science of happiness and positivity, mindfulness, leading a happy team, happiness and policies in government work, and measuring happiness. It appointed a Minister of State for Happiness and also a number of Happiness Officers who would be trained at the University of California, Berkeley and the Oxford Mindfulness Centre of the University of Oxford, two of several international partners enlisted by the UAE government to ensure the success of its programme.

Closer to home, Madhya Pradesh is reported to be the first and only state in India to have created a department of happiness to boost the wellbeing of its citizens, and appointed a Minister for Happiness.

Time was, not all that long ago, when happiness was not measured by data and official policies. Happiness was not analysed and planned; it was not pursued under any DIY guidelines or international training programmes.

Rather happiness was what you felt (and not all the time), what you shared with your family and friends—not through ‘events’ and slogans, but over a family meal; exchanged lunch boxes in the school recess; through letters and cards, and other simple joys of life. The same was done when one was feeling sad, or tense or confused. It was a time before emoticons summed up the way we felt.

The 2018 theme for International Day of Happiness is Home. In keeping with the times, sharing an online recipe for making a happy day!

Smile, share, eat healthily, exercise, be grateful, give back, think positively, spend some time with friends and family, spend some time alone, be mindful, dream, listen to music, say thank you and mean it, compete, be charitable, say “all the more” instead of “nonetheless” – you get it. Do what makes you happy.

In the meanwhile–from the global to the local–it had been reported that the minister for Happiness in Madhya Pradesh, whose arrest had been ordered by the court on charges of murder, had gone missing. Last heard of, the police were in hot pursuit of Shri Happiness!


Writing Poetry

The only other time

Ever I wrote poetry

Was when I was fifteen


And pretty awful poetry it was

Generally whiny and confused

Written in a fit of anger

Against the world (as personified by my mother or teacher)

Or from the depths of despondency

(After a ‘I’ll never talk to you’ fight with a best friend)


Never did it rhyme

Have a spark of originality

Or rhythm

Or any redeeming grace


Now that I am fifty five (plus!)

I find myself writing poetry again

As awful as before

As whiny and confused

As graceless—if slightly better spelt!


Second childhood I have heard of,

But why did no one warn me

That adolescence and the mid-life crisis

Have so much in common?


About the Millennial Matriarchs

The MM collaboration began around 30 years ago (long before they were matriarchs!) and has resulted in several initiatives: educational projects; about 25 publications including school and college textbooks, story books, teachers’ manuals, etc.; exhibitions, films, training programs….

Other interesting shenanigans include editing the Ahmedabad edition of the Children’s Supplement of Indian Express for three years.

The MMs are:

Meena Raghunathan: Scolder-in-chief and mother-in-law to the world at large. Also, an environmental educator for two decades and CSR professional for 15 years. CSR, education, pre-school education, skilling and livelihoods are areas of professional interest. Writing and editing are personal passions.

Mamata Pandya: Scolder of the scolder-in-chief, and partner in drafting andheader 4 crafting words! An educator, writer, editor and avid crossword cracker. Lover, collector and translator of children’s books. In a continual explore, discover, think and share mode.

The blog is a leap of faith for both the Matriarchs, as technology and social media are not their areas of comfort.

But hope to get by with a little help from our friends!


A Decade of Caring for Little Hearts

Tragedy comes into all our lives. And so too, it visited my friend Chitra Vishwanathan. She lost her beautiful little daughter Aishwarya who had a Congenital Heart Defect.

‘Congenital Heart Defect is a neonatal birth defect due to abnormal development of the heart that could involve the interior walls of the heart, the valves inside the heart, or the arteries and veins that carry blood to the heart or the body. Blue baby is another term used for CHD. Such babies have a blue complexion from lack of oxygen in the blood due to a congenital defect of the heart or major blood vessels.

The severity of CHD ranges from simple to complex. Simple CHDs such as a small hole between heart chambers do not require any treatment because they get corrected on its own. But complex CHDs require special medical care and multiple surgeries over a span of several years.
CHD affects approximately nine out of 1,000 new-borns and is one of the leading causes of infant mortality. Approximately 10% of infant mortality in India could be attributed to CHD alone. However, early detection and right treatment increases the chance of survival and has good long-term prognosis among new-borns. Around 90% of CHD-affected children can be treated if diagnosed early, even better if it gets detected before birth. Roughly around 1,80,000 children are born each year in India with CHD. Of these nearly 60,000 to 90,000 require early intervention.’(1)

What did Chitra do with her sense of loss and her grief? Turned it into a mission to reach as many babies with CHD as possible and try to save their lives. She set up Aishwarya Trust, which this month completes 10 years. The Trust focusses on creating awareness about CHD; undertaking massive screening camps; and free surgeries as required, in partnership with reputed doctors and hospitals. The Trust has saved 1300 young lives through surgeries in this decade–including children from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Puducherry, and other parts of India, along with children from 5 African nations (Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia) and Iraq. And created huge awareness about the issue through awareness and screening programs.

Thanks Chitra!

Readers, anyone you know who has turned tragedy into a mission? Do share and inspire!


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