Mary Poppins 2.0

Remember the loveable character of Mary Poppins who could fix messes in homes and families? Don’t we all sometimes wish that Mary Poppins would fly into our lives and set things straight? Someone who could discipline us to set ourselves in order? Believe it or not there is a real new-age Mary Poppins, and her name is Marie Kondo!clutter.jpg

Who is this new Marie and what does she do? Marie Kondo is a Japanese “tidying expert!” She helps people to clear up the clutter in their homes, and guides them towards creating spaces of order and serenity.

Marie was born in Japan in a culture which celebrates beauty in simplicity. Marie grew up with the ingenious origami art of folding, artistic ikebana, beautifully orchestrated tea ceremonies, and the art of creating minimalistic but serene surroundings, as well as an inborn gift for creating order out of chaos. She added to this, a canny entrepreneurial spirit when she started her “tidying consultant” business as a 19-year old university student in Tokyo. Realising the immense need and scope of “tidiness consulting” in an age when people lives were ‘cluttered’ in every which way, she went on to write a best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”

Where Mary Poppins created magic with the wave of her umbrella and a catchy tune on her lips, Marie Kondo starts her process of transformation in a more oriental style by making her clients calmly meditate on how their space is special to them, and to give thanks for this. She then proceeds to gently but firmly get them to review all their possessions, and let go whatever does not “spark joy” in them, after thanking these for their service! She then advises on how to rearrange and reorganise the remaining belongings by category, following the KonMari Method.

Today Marie is a global expert with her own Netflix’s hit show “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, and founder of KonMari Media Inc.

I admire this young woman who has found herself a natty niche, and is smart enough to make a successful enterprise out of it. But I cannot but help thinking of the generations of homemakers who have kept beautifully organised and managed homes with limited resources, but much hard work, care and creativity. For them it was a way of life, into which they were oriented by mothers and mothers-in-law. Today when we have much more of everything, except time and patience, voila, Marie Kondo is at your service!

–Mamata

Celebrating the Teacher

September 5–Teacher’s Day in India is marked by awards, articles, and essays  remembering and honouring those who instruct and inspire.  Across the world, and across generations, there have been many who have left behind their legacy on the young minds and lives. Films and books have tried to capture some of this in their own small way.

A film that I saw recently was a new addition to this list of ‘must watch and must read’. Freedom Writers  tells the story of an idealistic young teacher confronted with the challenge of teaching ‘unteachable, at-risk’ students, and her non-conformist attempts at making meaningful connections.

The movie is based on the real experiences of Erin Gruwell that she documented in a book titled The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them. The book was published in 1999.

Erin was a 23-year-old white American when she stepped into her classroom of a motley group of African American and Latino teenagers coming from a world of broken homes, violence, and every form of social, cultural and economic discrimination. Instead of giving up, and simply labelling her charges as ‘unteachable’, Erin realised that these young people were deprived of exposure, attention and respect. One way to open up their vision and world was to introduce them to writings that shared similar histories of discrimination, beginning with The Diary of Anne Frank, and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo, and including a visit to the Holocaust Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Despite initial resistance, the students began to see the parallels between these books and events in history, and their own lives; they realised that they were not alone in their struggles. Erin then moved on to encouraging every student to keep a journal in which they recorded their thoughts and feelings about their past, present and future.

The students were so inspired by Anne Frank’s story that they organised a “Read-a-thon for Tolerance” and collected funds to invite Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who sheltered Anne Frank’s family, to visit them in California during the 1994/1995 school year. Miep declared that Erin Gruwell’s students were “the real heroes”. As a testament to Erin’s dauntless efforts, all 150 Freedom Writers graduated from high school and many went on to attend college—a hitherto unachieved triumph.

The book The Freedom Writers Diary is a compilation of the journals kept by these students. Its title The Freedom Writers is a tribute to the name of the 1960s US civil rights group called Freedom Riders. Erin’s book was a huge success. She went on to set up The Freedom Writers Foundation, which functions to promote Erin’s successful teaching methods.

The film brought to mind another path-breaking movie To Sir, With Love. Released in 1967, this is also based on an autobiographical novel by E.R. Braithwaite which recounts his experiences as a teacher in London. In this case, it was the challenge of a teacher of colour teaching a class of white, economically and socially-deprived teenagers in a working-class area of London. Facing similar challenges of teaching a set curriculum to semi-literate and disinterested, hostile students, Braithwaite took on the challenge by switching to unconventional teaching methods including visits to museums, and allowing students to discuss what was meaningful to them, in the class. Like Erin, he broke through the barriers, and succeeded where others had thrown up their hands in despair.

Inspiring films both. Also a reminder that, in any time and place, a single individual can make a big difference. A tribute to every teacher, who in his or her own way, touches countless minds and hearts, and changes lives.

–Mamata

 

Green Amber Red

Imagine that you are cruising along a highway; enjoying the smooth flow and passage of time and miles. On the other hand, imagine you are in a city, driving at the required speed, eagerly crossing the green lights, slowing at the amber, and every now and then, stopping at the red light. There is a sense in both the experiences; in both cases, a different kind of pace is set.

The act of writing could perhaps be compared to this. Every writer sets their own pace and rhythm of how the words flow. For some the long uninterrupted cruise is the mode of choice; others prefer the ordered structure of breaking the flow, sometimes with a pause and sometimes with a longer halt—from green to amber to red. It is the punctuation marks that represent these traffic lights.

Many writers have expressed their thoughts on these—essential parts of tImage result for image punctuation marks cartoonhe tools of their trade. Some have celebrated punctuation as the friendly spirits whose bodiless presence nourishes the body of language”,  while another believes that each writer has a lifetime quota of them, to be used judiciously. I myself have always enjoyed the mental exercise of fixing the appropriate place for the appropriate mark, and am always attracted by how authors perceive and practice the use of punctuation marks.

I recently read a delightful articulation of this in an article which had excerpts from an essay titled Notes on Punctuation by Lewis Thomas. Thomas was an American physician, poet, etymologist, essayist, administrator, educator, researcher and teacher. Amidst his serious research and writing, Thomas applied equal affectionate attention to the traffic signals, giving each one a distinct character and identity.

Sharing some in his own words.

, The commas are the most useful and usable of all the stops. It is highly important to put them in place as you go along. If you try to come back after doing a paragraph and stick them in the various spots that tempt you you will discover that they tend to swarm like minnows into all sorts of crevices whose existence you hadn’t realized and before you know it the whole long sentence becomes immobilized and lashed up squirming in commas. Better to use them sparingly, and with affection, precisely when the need for each one arises, nicely, by itself.

; I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added; it reminds you sometimes of the Greek usage. It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.

: Colons are a lot less attractive, for several reasons: firstly, they give you the feeling of being rather ordered around, or at least having your nose pointed in a direction you might not be inclined to take if left to yourself, and, secondly, you suspect you’re in for one of those sentences that will be labeling the points to be made: firstly, secondly and so forth, with the implication that you haven’t sense enough to keep track of a sequence of notions without having them numbered.

!!! Exclamation points are the most irritating of all. Look! they say, look at what I just said! How amazing is my thought! It is like being forced to watch someone else’s small child jumping up and down crazily in the center of the living room shouting to attract attention. If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn’t need a mark to point it out. And if it is really, after all, a banal sentence needing more zing, the exclamation point simply emphasizes its banality!

As for me, I do so love the comma, and simply cannot resist the !!!

–Mamata

 

 

Verse and ‘Worsifier’

Every time I come across a crossword clue which calls for filling the name of a South American mammal, the first lines that come to mind are:

The one-l lama, he’s a priest.

The two-l llama he’s a beast.

And I will bet

A silk pajama

There isn’t any three-l llama.

One of my favourite verses from one of my favourite poets—Ogden Nash! Frederic Ogden Nash was born on August 19, 1902, in the city of Nashville in America. Nash was a college drop-out who tried his hand at different jobs before joining the marketing department at the publishing house Doubleday. At the age of 29, he received international acclaim with Hard Lines, his first collection of humorous poems published in 1930. Following this, he left his job to concentrate fully on writing. He was a keen observer of American social life, and his writing anti-establishment. His tongue-in-cheek humour, and often irreverent poems caricatured the pretentious middle-class mentality of America in the thirties and forties. He wrote prolifically, over 500 poems including long winding verses, pithy two-liners, and take-offs on sonnets , ballads and limericks with his own inimitable play with, and, on words.

Nash considered himself a “worsifier.” He had a wicked sense of humour, and a clever way with words that always make me chuckle, no matter how many time I read his poems.

To celebrate Ogden Nash, sharing some of my old favourites, on creatures big and small.

The Cow 

The cow is of the bovine ilkIMG_20190820_151218.jpg

One end is moo, the other milk.

 The Germ

A mighty creature is the germ.

Though smaller than the pachyderm.

His customary dwelling place

Is deep within the human race.

His childish pride he often pleases

By giving people strange diseases

Do you my poppet, feel infirm?

You probably contain a germ.

The Ant

The ant has made himself illustrious

Through constant industry industrious.

So what?

Would you be calm and placid

If you were full of formic acid?

 The Fly

God in His wisdom made the fly

And then forgot to tell us why.

The Mules

In the world of mules

There are no rules.

 The Kitten

The trouble with a kitten is

THAT

Eventually it becomes a

CAT.

 The Octopus

Tell me. O Octopus. I begs.

Is those things arms, or is they legs?

I marvel at thee. Octopus;

If I were thou, I’d call me Us.

While his observations on the human race are somewhat lengthier, here are some short and snappy classics!

The Baby 

A bit of talcum

Is always walcum.

 The Parent

Children aren’t happy with nothing to ignore

And that’s what parents were created for.

 Birthday on the Beach 

At another year

I would not boggle

Except when I jog

I joggle.

 Crossing the Border

Senescence begins

And middle age ends

The day your descendants

Outnumber your friends.

 Introspective Reflection

I would live all my life in nonchalance and insouciance

Were it not for making a living, which is rather a nouciance.

Luckily for him, and for us, Ogden Nash could make a living from his insouciance, and his verse delights us even today!

–Mamata

 

 

 

 

Ode to the Saree

It is the day of tributes and nationalistic fervour. The news is replete IMG_20190815_101428069.jpgwith people sharing thoughts and feelings about what India means to them. This is my small paean to what, for me, represents the essence of India. It is an ode to the saree!

I wore my first formal saree when I was 16 years old. I still remember it—a magenta-pink Venkatagiri brought by my friend’s mother from Chennai. And I fell in love with sarees. Not just the finished draped version but simply this seemingly endless flow of fabric, with its mind-blowing variety of textures, weaves, designs, and colours. It was the start of an enchanting journey of discovery—learning, over the years, about the unique features of sarees from every part of India. Luckily for me it was the period of rediscovery of the rich heritage of our textiles which manifested in national handloom exhibitions where weavers displayed their wondrous skills. Oh the excitement of adding, one by one, traditional sarees of different states—the stunning kanjeevarams; the intricate ikats; the rustling golden tussars; the vibrant bandhanis and patolas; the summery kotas, and the sturdy handlooms. With every piece was the attempt to know more about the place and people who wove the masterpieces, the dyes and the motifs, the warp and the weft. It was an exploration of my country—its geography and history, culture and tradition, and craft and craftsmanship.

I was already part of a committed saree-wearing cadre when I started my career as an environmental educator. To my delight, one of the early statements by my Director Kartikeya Sarabhai, beautifully summed up the very special features of the saree. “The saree is a designed piece of clothing worn all over India. Over the years very beautiful designs, patterns and textures have been printed and woven into the Indian saree and yet, several thousand years of Indian history has not tried to stitch the saree. It is worn in many ways and fits all sizes. It is equally good for working, dressing up or sleeping in. The final effect is the combined effort of the person who designs the cloth and the person who wears it—of the designer and the user. This is a very different concept from that of designing, say, a well-stitched dress. The garment either fits or doesn’t fit, and where it fits, leaves very little room for the wearer to be innovative in its use.”

I have worn a saree every day of my working life. I have looked forward to choosing the one for the day, and it has become the symbol of my identity. I have worn my saree at home and at work; while travelling and sleeping; rain and shine. I have experienced the joys of putting together my own collection of the multitude of woven flavours of this wonderful country, and revelling in the rich bequest that is ours to savour and share

I am saddened at the ebbing of the saree today. Appalled that it has been reduced to a hashtag; that sarees have become exclusive “designer outfits” with tips on outre ways of draping a saree or, even worse, the stitched saree! I am amused when people think I am an ‘amma from the days of yore’ when I am the only one in a large gathering wearing a saree.  I am disturbed that in our race for globalisation and international Brands, we seem to be losing a crucial common thread of identity.

For me the saree represents the essential spirit of my country—the heritage and the history; the multiplicity and the uniqueness; the weaving of warp and weft to create a strong resilient fabric. It represents a unique common identity which subsumes the incredible diversity of textures and motifs. It represents the magic of being a seamless length of fabric that takes on the individual character of its wearer.

I may not wear my patriotism on my sleeve, but every time I wear my saree I celebrate the wonder that is India!

–Mamata

Two Sides of the Mirror

Time was, not so long ago, when photo albums were treasured family heirlooms.  Looking at old photos was one of the shared activities at a family get-together, with the elders pleasurably sinking into nostalgia, and youngsters playing guessing games at identifying the people in the pictures. There was a special excitement in flipping through the pages and sharing a laugh at “how much hair dear uncle had”, as compared with his bald pate today; or comparing the picture of the slim young girl with the comfortably chubby aunt today!

Photographs recorded the phases of life—the baby pictures taken by fond parents to record milestones; the awkward and self-conscious pictures of the gawky teenage years; the fancy wedding photo album; and the next cycle of young parents, their babies and doting grandparents.

There was a certain charm in seeing these transitions through the captured images. There was also a certain ceremony attached to the process of documenting. In the early years, this took the form of special posed pictures taken by professional photographers. With cameras becoming more user-friendly and available, it brought the process closer to home, but there was still the waiting period between the giving of the film for developing and getting back the prints and the negatives to discover what they revealed! Over time the technology and format of film, cameras and processing changed. The Polaroid camera was magic in a box—click, and voila the photo appears. …And then came the mobile phones with the ease of capturing images in an instant; along with all the many many Apps to do what you wish with the image. And everyone went crazy…every second of every day to be not only recorded, but immediately shared. Followed by the anxiety of how many views and how many likes. A deluge of images, sweeping across the screen of life, fleeting, momentary and, alas not as magical as turning the pages of an album to peruse history.

And now the new rage—FaceApp! The wand that reveals what you will look like when you are OLD! Celebrities across the world are posting pictures of what technology turns them into, projecting into the future. Of course every one of them looks suitably dignified and gracefully old, and feels reassured that “I am going to age well.”

Even more thought provoking is the news that this may also be used for not-as-legit facial recognition purposes. This makes me wonder. One the one hand, for millions of millennials, self-esteem and self- image hinge on being, at all times, visible on social media and “liked”. Then how can this be selective?

I am totally flummoxed by this. Here is a generation of self-obsessed young people living in an age where Image matters most. Here are the celebrities who spend millions on “looking young”. Here are the people who believe that life is in the here and now. Here is the technology which allows you to Photoshop away every trace of wrinkle or sagging skin, every blemish or hint of the passage of time. And yet these same people are clambering on the new high of “looking old.” Sadly, if only they stopped to think, life is more complex than an App, and who can tell what traces the ravages of time and experience will leave on our visage.

As for me, I would rather browse through the passage of time from my photo albums, than fast forward to the future!

–Mamata

Gentle Birdman Leaves Us

Many mornings, sitting in our little garden with our cups of tea, as we watch the birds already busy going about their day’s business, we may spot one that we had not seen before. And before it disappears we say, “Bring Lalsinhbhai’s book and let’s find out what this is.” Lalsinhbhai’s handy bird book is always close at hand. With the help of the beautiful life-like illustrations we open to the description, and always learn so much more than the name of the bird. Written in simple conversational Gujarati, Lalsinhbhai’s bird books are over and above the traditional description of birds. They capture nuances of birds that make them truly our Lifelong Companions, as one of his books is titled.

Lalsinhbhai Raol, passionate nature lover, the birdman of Gujarat, and an inspiration to countless nature lovers, passed away recently. For the Matriarchs, who both stepped into the charmed campus of CEE with relatively little prior exposure to the natural world, he was one of the wonderful guides that gently led us to explore and discover the world of birds.

Lalsinhbhai was then working with CEE on a book series called Introduction to Nature. For many generations, Salim Ali’s book had been the Bible for all birdwatchers. Lalsinhbhai’s series, in Gujarati, not only opened up the fascinating world of birds to non-English speaking audiences, but also opened windows to the birds of Gujarat—starting with the most commonly found birds, to birds of wetlands, of grasslands, and of the forest and its environs. Lalsinhbhai not only translated his long years of bird observation into succinct, interesting descriptions, but also coined appropriate Gujarati names for several of these.

His was a quiet, unobtrusive presence on CEE campus, but whenever you met him, he would always have a gentle word of concern and encouragement, and an exciting bird fact to share.IMG_20190801_110849.jpg

I had the privilege of sharing his great knowledge and passion when he kindly agreed to be the author of NatureScope Birds, one of a series of Teachers’ Manuals that I was editor of. This involved not only putting together a compendium of information about Indian birds in a teacher and student-friendly style, and also linking this with relevant and exciting activities that could be easily done. For me this was a greatly enriching and inspiring collaboration. Even today, I often dip into the book for facts, ideas, and activities with the confidence that every word is accurate and vetted by an expert ornithologist.

Meena has her own special memories of learning from Lalsinhbhai. I had the privilege to work with Lalsinhbhai on developing a proposal for a project of Bird Study for the Visually Challenged almost 30 years ago. It was a unique project, in that its purpose was to make ‘bird watching’ possible without the ‘watching’. Recorded bird sounds were of course an important part; but we also proposed providing tactile experiences such as touch-and-feel albums of feathers; collection of birds’ nests; true-size models of birds, birds’ feet, beaks, eggs; and trips to bird areas to experience the environment, sounds, etc. As always, Lalsinhbhai could empathise with the needs, and gave wonderful insights and ideas. The Ministry of Human Resources accepted the proposal and the team carried out a very successful project in Ahmedabad.

We feel fortunate for having known, and learnt from this gentle soul. May his spirit always soar high with the birds that he so loved.

–Mamata and Meena

 

It’s Not Easy…Being Parents

This piece is continuing Meena’s recent angst about parenting.

Indeed, parents need counselling more than the children. In many ways it seems that children today are more the receptacles of the parents’ own aspirations and, yes, peer pressures. How does the parent participate in conversations which centre around–What school does your child go to; what does she/he excel at; where did you go for your last family holiday; which are the different types of special coaching your child has… and so on. So the child has to live up to the expectations of not only the parents, but the social circles that they move in. And somewhere in all this circle of “well-meaning concern” the child begins to feel inadequate and undeserving, and there starts slow seeping of confidence, which sadly may end in extreme consequences.

At another level is the insidious guilt of the parents—for being so busy with their work and leisure; for delegating a lot of the traditional parenting tasks to external help; for not giving what they feel may be adequate time and attention; for not giving the child “the best that money can buy, after all what are we working so hard for?” This manifests in the over-concern, over indulgence and over coddling by parents; and a sense of birth right to privilege, self-centredness, and “my parents can set it right for me” on the part of the child. This too may have disastrous consequences should the well-planned map of “how we see our life” go awry.

Every generation of parents feels that the times that they live in are the most challenging, and that they require bespoke answers to child raising.

Interestingly, over 80 years ago, my grandfather Gijubhai Badheka, wrote several volumes on the challenges of parenting, with the apt title It Is Not Easy…Being Parents.  Gijubhai was not trained in child psychology; but his deep concern for the welfare of the child led him to observe, reflect, and note his thoughts. He described the dilemmas faced by both parents, as well as by children, and explored possibilities of how these could be handled.

For me, these simple yet profound notings are as fundamental and relevant even today. Sharing a few excerpts, translated by me from the original in Gujarati.

The young boy strenuously clambers up two rungs of the ladder. As he raises his foot to reach the third rung, the father says, “Come down; you are too young to climb ladders. If you fall you will break your bones.”

The young girl carefully wields a knife to chop vegetables or to sharpen a pencil. The mother scolds, “Put down that knife; you will cut yourself.”

The daughter wants to put the pan of dal on the gas stove. Mother says, “You will get scalded.”

The daughter says “Can I carry the glass of water for the guest?” Mother says, “You will spill it.”

The adults are trying to solve a problem. As they discuss the child offers some suggestions. All say, “Now you don’t try to act too big for your boots.”

Every day in innumerable situations we react in this fashion, unknowingly squashing the confidence of our children. Every time it takes up a task, it hears echoes of its parents’ cautionary warnings, and drops it forthwith, overcome by the fear that it will not be able to successfully accomplish the task. If someone asks it to climb up, carry something or use a tool, it may refuse, or if forced to do so, ends up falling or spilling or hurting itself. The child ends up even more ashamed at its own inadequacy to carry out the task.

By corroding our children’s confidence, we truly do make them unable to perform. In some ways our lack of confidence and trust in our children is a reflection of our own lack of confidence.

We need to have the strength to have confidence in our children. Encouraged by that trust, our children will prove themselves more than worthy of what we have bestowed. A child is human, a human striving to grow. We must enable this growth, the blossoming of its personality.

Removed from all the outer trappings of “success,” ultimately what do we, as parents, wish for our children? I think it should be “the confidence and courage to take on life!”

–Mamata

 

Hidden Figures, No Longer

This is the week of moon missions—past, present and future. Fifty years since the first man walked on the moon, and very soon, India’s own Chandrayaan-2  will become the first space mission to make a soft landing on the South Pole of the moon. Another ‘first’ worth celebrating is the fact that this moon mission is being led by two women, along with a team that comprised 30 per cent women. While programme director Muthayya Vanitha has nurtured Chandrayaan-2 over the years, the journey will be navigated by mission director Ritu Karidhal. Much to be proud of indeed!

Interestingly, while today women are rightfully making the headlines in science and technology, the scene was very different just 60 years ago. The booIMG_20190718_102016.jpgk titled Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race traces the true story of black female mathematicians who worked as ‘computers’ (then a job description of those who did calculations by hand) at NASA, during the space race. The book describes how the three mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, overcame discrimination and racial segregation, with determination and hard work, to use their brilliant mathematical minds to contribute substantially to some of America’s greatest achievements in space.

The book traces the period from the 1930s through the 1960s in America, when women were still expected to be at home, and faced social, racial and gender discrimination.  Through sheer tenacity, force of will, courage and intellect, these women scientists ensured their stamp on history.

Written by Margot Lee Shetterly, herself an African-American, whose father was a research scientist at NASA during that period. His accounts of the work, and of his co-workers inspired her to research and tell the story of some of these women whose contributions were hardly known, let alone recognised. Shetterly is the founder of The Human Computer Project which is an endeavour to recover the names and accomplishments of all of the women who worked as computers, mathematicians, scientists and engineers at the NACA and NASA from the 1930s through the 1980s.

Just this year, the street outside NASA’s headquarters has been named “Hidden Figures Way”, in belated honour of these three African-American women whose work helped pave the way for future generations at the space agency.

The book Hidden Figures has also been adapted as a film by the same name, which captures the spirit of the book, although not the details of the work environment at the NASA Langley Research Centre, and the lives and experiences of these women.

In the meanwhile we are proud to honour all the women who are, rightfully, no longer simply hidden figures. What all the women (hidden and otherwise) do have in common is the passion that drove them to achieve their dreams.

As Ritu Karidhal has said “Since my childhood, I realised that science was not just a subject for me, it was a passion. When you are passionate about something, it just keeps you going, it doesn’t matter who is in front of you or what obstacles comes.”

Yes, even the sky is not the limit for those who not just dream, and but also dare!

–Mamata

 

Musings on the Moon

The moon is in the news! This week marks 50 years since the first man landed on the moon, and the papers are full of it, including reminiscences of that milestone year–1969. This took me back to my own association with the moon landing. It was my final school year, and we were told by all our teachers that this was a sure bet as a topic for the essay in our English and Hindi Board papers. So we read all that we could find, and mugged up the names and the dates, and the famous quote “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”—the first words by Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the moon (20 July 1969), and wove them into our creative writing practice.

Those were simple times. Television had still not come to our home. The whole family would avidly listen to the All India Radio news read by familiar comforting voices as they conjured up word pictures of events at home and abroad (the highlight of which was the live broadcast of the Republic Day parade on 26 January). Newspapers in black and white print, and sometimes fuzzy photographs provided the visual support to the audio coverage. We first saw a colour picture of the moon landing in the Span magazine published by the American Cultural Centre.

Being a teenager in Delhi was more about innocent pleasures, than pressures and angst. We had real friends (not virtual) with whom we spent all our time, in school and at each other’s homes, plied with home-cooked food by the much-loved aunties. We had music playing on LPs—Beatles and Woodstock; and the occasional Beat Show, when one of the parents offered to pick us all up and ferry us home for a giggly night-spend together. But we also sated ourselves on the rich offering of music, theatre and art that was easily accessible in Delhi in the 1970s. Books were our BFFs, and sources varied, from the American Library to the hole-in-the-corner neighbourhood lending library.

We were one of the early (now reviled) Khan Market gangs, when ‘hanging out’ meant simply walking around Khan (then not so up-market), and treating ourselves to a coke! Choices were limited, and aspirations were achievable—to join the Administrative Services or become a college lecturer if you were an ‘arts type’, or to become a doctor or engineer. Cut-off marks in lists were in the 60s, and annual fees in the best colleges were still in three figures.

And yet we all got somewhere meaningful, in our own ways, even though by today’s standards we did not “arrive in style” as it were. And we are still there, doing our best to live by our values, in a very different age. It has, after all, been quite an age–half a century–since those days. Since then science and technology have indeed made a giant leap forward, We can be proud that very soon our own moon mission Chandrayaan-2 will be up and away on its way to land on the moon.

Even as we now have the ability to probe the crevices and craters of the distant moon, wonderfully, the moon has not lost its magic for the dreamers and the poets and painters. moon.jpg

We need the moon more than its needs us—look up at the full moon today, and you will know why!

–Mamata