പഴങ്കഞ്ഞി (Pazhankanji)

Pazhankanji – fermented previous day’s cooked rice soaked in plain water – was served every morning at our home while we were growing up.  It was mostly accompanied by a pickle or ഉപ്പുമാങ്ങ  (Uppumanga) chutney.  Uppumanga is pickled tender mangoes in  brine.  After harvesting the tender mangos, generally in March-April, they are washed clean, dried and put into a large china-clay pitcher called a ഭരണി  (Bharani) with  brine and lot of fresh green chillies.  The mangos are now left to pickle up and is used to make chutney, with or without coconut, during the monsoons (June till September).  At that time availability of vegetables from our farmland around the house would deplete as new saplings would have been planted with the commencement of monsoons.  Obviously they would be growing up to yield their produce.

Amma used to make chutney with the Uppumanga and the accompanying chillies by grinding it with the small red onions and grated coconut.  She also used it to prepare prawn curry with it. I relished the brine from the Bharani which had the flavour of both the mango and the chili.  My brothers too loved it and obviously it was a strict ‘no-no’ for us to dip our hands into the Bharani as it would spoil the Uppumanga  Amma treasured.  Our hands would be dirty or wet and she did not want the mangos to be infected with fungus.  She had a special തവി(Thavi), a large ladle made of  half shell of a coconut with a long handle made from coconut wood, to take out the mangoes.

Amma cooked every morning prior to leaving to the school where she taught and in the evening on return.  The rice for the dinner was cooked in the evening and I observed that she always cooked an extra cup of rice.  On inquiry, she said it is for the guests who might come calling on in the evening.  In those days the last trip of the bus to Kottayam town was at 7 PM and all relatives who came over had to spend the night at our home.  Our home was about 20 km from our ancestral village as our father moved there next to Amma’s school so that she could spend more time at home and with us children.

Any rice left over after dinner was placed in an earthen pot soaked in water and left to ferment overnight at room temperature.  We did not have a fridge by then and hence this was the only way to store the leftover rice.  Next morning it was served as Pazhankanji. It really tasted a lot better when one had it using a spoon made out of a Jack-Fruit leaf as shown in the image above.  In case poor and hungry people came calling, they would be served this.   If any of it was still left, it was put in the feed for the cows we reared.

As per Ayurveda and common popular belief,  consuming Pazhankanji has the  following advantages:-

  • Rich in B6 and B12 Vitamins.
  • Easy to digest and hence the body feels less tired and one feels fresh throughout the day.
  • Beneficial bacteria get produced in abundance for the body.
  • Excessive heat retained in the body overnight is relieved .
  • Reduces constipation as this is very fibrous..
  • It is said to lower blood pressure and hypertension subsides appreciably.
  • This removes allergy induced problems and also skin-related ailments.
  • It removes all types of ulcers in the body.
  • It helps in maintaining youthful and radiant look.
  • Consuming this is believed to reduce craving for tea or coffee.

From where does the rice, known as കുത്തരി  (Kuththari), to make this divine Pazhankanji come from?

Rice from our paddy field after harvesting is stocked in പത്താഴം (Pathazham), a large wooden box.  About 50 kg of this raw harvested rice it is taken out and boiled in the evening in a large copper vessel  until the husk break open a little.  This is left overnight and next morning it is drained and sun dried on a തഴപ്പായ് (Thazhappay) – a mat of 12 feet by 30 feet made from the leaves of screw pine.  We children had to be sentries for the rice being dried in the sun to ensure that the brood of fowls we reared did not feast on the rice and also to shoo away the crows.  Another task was to turn the rice over using our hands and feet to ensure exposing of the entire rice to the sun to facilitate even drying.  In case one spotted a rain bearing cloud, one had to alert every member of the household to come out to pack up the rice and the mat.  In case they got wet, fungus infection was a sure shot thing in humid Kerala.  The only other task one was permitted during this sentry duty was to read a book.

After about two to three such rounds of sun drying was complete, the rice used to be packed in gunny bags and had to be transported to the rice mill for de-husking operation.  Our eldest brother was the mission commander and he used to hire a hand cart and we siblings used to load it up and push the cart to the mill with our eldest brother manning the controls of the hand cart in front.  At the rice mill, the semi-polished rice would emerge out through a chute, the outer husk through another and the edible Bran – തവിട് (Thavidu) through another.  We had to collect these in different gunny bags and load them up in the hand cart.  After paying up the mill owner was the return journey home.  The inedible husk was used as fuel to be burned with firewood to boil the next lot of raw rice and the bran found its way to the cows’ feed.

A part of the rice husk was burned and the residue was sieved and to the fine powder.  Salt, powdered pepper and cloves were added to this to form ഉമ്മിക്കരി (Umikkari). This was used as tooth powder by all of us.  I was least surprised by the advertisements of modern toothpaste manufacturers claiming that they have all the ingredients that made up our Ummikkari in their product.

In the earlier days, when I was a little child, prior to the establishment of the rice mill, Amma would hire women folk to do the de-husking operation in an ഉരൽ (Ural).  Ural is a stone cylinder about two feet tall and two feet in diameter.  On the top surface, a hole, six inch in diameter and depth is chiseled out to hold rice.  There is a five feet tall baton made of hardwood, with a metallic cover at the base, which is lifted up and pounded on the material inside the hole.  Perfecting the art of not spilling the contents while pounding is developed over time – to start with for any learner, the speed of pounding is a bit slow, but with practice, the speed really picks up.  In my younger days I have seen two ladies doing this in tandem.  Real precision timing and coordination is required for each pounding, else it could spell disaster.

With the advent of modern household appliances like grinders, fridges. mixies, etc and availability of pre-prepared, sorted  and cleaned rice and various other products have surely reduced the workload, but the taste of the natural rice still lingers on my taste buds.  The fridges for sure have made Pazhankanji a history, even in our home.

How Did You Manage It?

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Our father, a primary school headmaster, always believed that it would be better to have the children born in March (Pisceans) as it would ensure that the child when joining school does not have to waste a few months. Nowadays it is mandatory that the child must be six years (in our school days it was five) old on the first day of school – 01 June. There had been many instances when the parents wanted the child to begin school early, especially those who missed the age barrier by a few days or a month or two. In the good old days, the parents and the headmaster could mutually agree to enter in records a suitable date of birth to ensure entry into school. This resulted many of our generation (including my wife Marina) ending up with two dates of birth – one the actual day they were born and the other the ‘official’ one. All four of us brothers were actually born Pisceans and we never had this problem of two dates to remember.

On taking over command of the unit, I went full steam automating the administrative functions in the unit and the first priority was to automate the records of the men under command.  This was to ensure that all their necessary documentation were up to date, they receive all their pay and allowances and are fully qualified for promotion to the next rank. The very first step was data capture from the existing manual records. After most data were transferred to the digital media, I called up each individual soldier for an interview to fill in the gaps. As we were deployed in the operational area at that time, this interviews went on till late at night. More than collecting the data, it helped me to a great extent to know the men better as I was totally new to the regiment.

First use of the data captured was to make the weekly Regimental Order look more colourful. Not only that it was printed using a colour printer, the contents were also changed to be colourful. The routine stuff of Duty Officers, punishments etc were all printed in black and the goodies in colour. The goodies included wishes on festivals, compliments for achievements of the men and a special wish from the Commanding Officer (CO) on the soldier’s birthdays. With the data captured, I could easily print out the list of men celebrating their birthdays in the week ahead.

On analysing the data of the unit, I realised that about 20% of the men were born on the first day of the year (01/01) and about 30% born on the first day of the month, especially March, April and May. I concluded that like our father, their school headmasters also would have done the trick.

Case of Marina and her sibling is even better – they all have one ‘official’ birthday – 25 May. The secret was that their grandfather was the headmaster of the primary school and he had taken some liking to that date, like most headmasters of that time.  That is why many in our generation would have their official birthdays in and around 25 May – a few days before 01 June. Now in case I got to get them all for our daughter’s wedding in Canada and when I apply for their Visas, the Canadian Immigration will have a lot of questions and also a lot to analyse.

During my bachelor days, on a vacation home, along with our father, we went to attend a baptism in the family. In those days we had a Bajaj scooter at home and we took off. Being the month of June, the monsoon was in full fury and we had to stop enroute and take shelter in a tea-shop. I ordered two cups of tea and our father said “that is why I always say you should plan your children to be born in March”. I immediately asked him “How did you manage?” and he gave out his characteristic sly smile.

Years rolled by and in 1997, we were blessed with our son Nikhil on 16 March. At that time we were located at Pune as I was attending the Technical Staff Officers Course. As customary of the Orthodox Syrian Christians, the baptism had to be done after two months and our son had to take on our father’s name and our father had to be the God Father. During the baptism ceremony, it is the God Father who carries the child to the church and also say the pledges for the child. The entire family congregated at Pune for the occasion. After the ceremony got over, our father asked me “How did you manage?” and I too passed a sly smile. (Our daughter Nidhi was born on 20 March 1991 and I was born on 13 March 1962).

The secret is that both our children were due on 13 March, my birthday, but the gynecologist decided to delay their arrivals.

Climbing the CN Tower

CNTower
CN (Canadian National) Tower is a 553.33 m-high (1,815.4 ft) concrete communications and observation tower in Toronto,  Canada.   It was completed in 1976, becoming the world’s tallest free-standing structure and world’s tallest tower at the time. It held both records for 34 years until the completion of Burj Khalifa and Canton Tower in 2010. It remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere, a signature icon of Toronto’s skyline, and a symbol of Canada, attracting more than two million international visitors annually.  Its name “CN” originally referred to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower, following the railway’s decision to divest non-core freight railway assets.

The idea of the CN Tower originated in 1968 when the Canadian National Railway wanted to build a large TV and radio communication platform to serve the Toronto area.  As Toronto grew rapidly during the late 1960s and early 1970s, multiple skyscrapers were constructed in the downtown core and the reflective nature of the new buildings compromised the quality of broadcast signals necessitating new, higher antennas that were at least 300 m all.  The CN Tower opened on 01 October 1976, but soon the microwave communication and terrestrial TV/Radio transmissions were overtaken by satellite communication.  Now the tower is more of a tourist attraction and may be raking in more money than what it was intended for.

The 1,776 steps of the CN Tower’s main stairwell are climbed by over 20,000 people annually during two fundraising stair climbs for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the United Way raising well over $3 million for charity every year.  A trek up one of the tallest buildings in the world, the CN Tower Climb is one of the steepest physical challenges in the city.  Climbers face 144 flights of stairs with 1,776 steps, but the knowledge that all that hard work benefits a worthy cause like the United Way or the WWF, and with a bit of help from rest spots along the way, it’s sure to be a feat for over 10,000 climbers, who will look back on with pride.

Our family decided to undertake the feat on 21 April 2012, the day of the WWF climb.  We all practiced for a week by climbing up and down the two flights of stairs at home and going for a jog in the evening.  The children were enthusiastic about the feat, but were a bit scared about their parents.  Appa had left the army eight years before and added a few inches around his waist and Marina, a school days Kerala State 400m winner, had been out of physical activity for a long time.  So each one decided to take along each of the parents and proving Sigmund Freud correct, our daughter Nidhi decided to accompany Appa and our Son Nikhil decided to go along with Marina.  All set we took off early morning and reached the CN Tower.  We had to shed all our jackets at the registration counter and no loose objects like coins, keys, cell phones, water bottles etc are not allowed because in case anything falls off, it is sure to hurt someone climbing much below you.

There were thousands of people either climbing the tower or queuing up at the registration counters.  We commenced our climb after a frisking for any loose objects.  Marina was bit slow to begin with and Nikhil kept company.  Nidhi and self started well with Nidhi leading the way, until about 100 flights of stairs and then realised that Appa still had it in him and I reached the top, first amongst us in about 25 minutes.  Our daughter followed in a few minutes later.

The organisation enroute is worth mentioning.  There is a para-medic every four flights of stairs, to take care of any medical emergencies.  There were posters made by school children, bringing out the importance of wild life conservation and also about the climb, placed at the landing area after each flight.  As we reached on top, a bottle of water was handed over to each participant.  There were climbers of all ages – from kids to grandparents, disabled, amputees, veterans, etc.

After about 20 minutes we saw Nikhil pushing Marina out of the last step.  I asked him as to how they took 45 minutes to climb up to which he Marina said that Nikhil was all the way pushing and prodding her, and waiting with her when she took breaks and she would not have completed this climb without his assistance.  I felt really happy about his deed to take care of his mother and I asked him as to why he did not leave her and climb in good time as she would have somehow managed her way up.  To this Nikhil said that this may be the only time when Marina would climb the tower and he can do it in a shorter time later.  It was real moment of pride for all of us and I said to him that he did a great job in taking care of his mother and many teens would not have done so and I see a bright star in the sky in you.

CNTower2

On reaching home in the afternoon, an Indian family friend called us to enquire about the climb.  He asked as to how much we paid and I said that we had to pay $100 per climber as charity to WWF.  To this he said that going up the elevator costs only $25 and you pay $100 to strain yourself and climb all the way.  I did not say a word in response.

In the evening another Indian friend wanted to know as to why I took the entire family for such an ordeal (in case you are mad, you could have done it yourself), and I said that it was aimed to boost self confidence and leadership qualities in children and also to encourage charity for a cause like WWF.  To this he said that he did not understand the connection between climbing 1776 steps and leadership qualities to which I did not respond.

My First Sex Education

MySexEd
During our childhood my brother, the youngest in the family, then aged four, came up with an unusual request.  He wanted someone younger to him.  It was all because he was at the losing end of all the physical fights we siblings had.  At the time our parents solved the problem by getting him a kid – a goat’s kid – a female one.  That was how goat rearing commenced at our home.

In the evenings, after school, we used to take the goat out into our farmland for grazing.  We had to be on the lookout to ensure that the goat did not forage on the Tapioca (Kasava) cultivation, mainly to save the cultivation and also to save the goat from food poisoning. Little did I then know that the toxicity of the tapioca foliage was due to the presence Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN).    During the Monsoon rains, we had to cut the necessary forage from the trees which acted as support for the black pepper wines.

The kid grew real fast with all the attention and forage that we children heaped on her.  In a year she matured into a beautiful doe and was ready for a mate.  A Doe would come to heat by the end of summer and it lasts for two or three days and the cycle is repeated every three weeks.

In Kerala, the schools reopen after the summer vacations on 01 June but my Alma Mater, Sainik School Amravathinagar, reopens only by 15 June.  During my Grade 7 summer vacation, after the schools reopened for my brothers, our doe bleated one entire night.  In the morning Amma said that the doe is on heat and it is time to mate her.  That day our farm-hand did not turn up as he had pneumonia due to drenching in the monsoon showers the previous day.  I was the only one now free to take the doe for mating.

The village had a tea-shop run by a man named Kuttappai.  The tea-shop served as the meeting place for all village elders and doubled up as a reading room.  All dailies and magazines published from Kottayam found their way there.  It also served as the village ‘parliament’.  It was indeed a house of knowledge, and doubled up as a cultural-political-social-entertainment institution, where anything and everything under the sun – from international relations to state and village politics; science to the Bible; communism to capitalism – were discussed.  Gossips too found their way in, obviously as spicy as the narrator could make it.

Kuttappai reared a flock of goats housed in a thatched shed to the rear of the tea-shop.  He used the milk from the goats to make tea and obviously the village folk relished his special tea.  The flock was led by a majestic buck.  The buck also served as the village stud and Kuttappai charged Rs 10 for every mating.

At about 11 o’ clock, I walked our doe to Kuttappai’s tea shop, as per Amma’s advise because that was the time  when the tea-shop would be empty of customers as people would have returned home after fiery debates and discussions.  Obviously that was the only time Kuttappai would be free to facilitate the mating.

On reaching the tea-shop, Kuttappai instructed me to tie our doe closely on to a coconut tree adjacent to the goat shed.  The smell and sight of the doe in heat made the buck tied in the shed restless and his snorting and kicking increased, at times reaching a violent stage as if he would bring the entire shed down.

After 15 minutes, Kuttappai emerged from his tea-shop.  The buck was tied with a long rope and Kuttappai released him so as to make him reach the doe.  The buck went around the doe, smelled and licked her vulva and when he was about to mount her, Kuttappai pulled him back into the shed and tied him up.  That was a staged foreplay for the buck.

Now the buck had turned real violent as the frequency of his kicking multiplied and the volume of his snorts became louder.  After 10 minutes Kuttappai again released the buck and he came charging in and mounted the doe and the entire mating was completed in a few seconds.  Kuttappai now pulled the buck back into the shed and like a conqueror, the buck stood with his head high, but the tone of his snorts had changed as if to announce his accomplishment.

A doe generally gets into heat in the later part of summer and in Kerala, it coincides with the onset of Monsoons (June to September).  There are certain indications the doe gives out when in heat.  Her vulva swells and become red, and she may have some vaginal discharge.    She tends to eat less and become restless because the hormones associated with fertility kick in.  A milk producing doe may decrease her milk production due to the hormonal changes.  Her frequency of tail-wagging suddenly increases and her bleats become longer, especially at night.

During the monsoons when the doe goes into heat, the buck goes into rut.  During rut the buck urinates into his mouth and on his chest, face, and beard, turning them yellow.  The scent glands near his horns become overactive.  These lead to an unbearable stink – in reality the stink is to attract a doe in heat towards him.  During rut a buck would snort, grunt and kick its hind legs.  It tends to give a terrorising look with its upper lip curled up.

In the evening when Amma returned from school I dutifully reported to her the events of the day and posed some uncomfortable questions about the procedure and the need for it.  The School teacher in Amma responded with poise and she summarised the entire event as an act of depositing the sperm by the buck in the doe’s womb where it would fertilise an egg and would result in formation of an embryo.  She also explained that the rooster and the hens also did the same and so did humans. Thus began my introduction to sex education.

Maximus Koduvath

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How did Maximus join our family?

In 2007, on a summer day, our children Nidhi and Nikhil approached Marina with an unusual request that they wanted another sibling.  They promised that they would take care of the newborn baby and also that they would bring up the baby. Marina explained that it was a pretty difficult proposition as she had her tubes tied on delivery of Nikhil.  She explained that it would be very difficult for someone to mother a child at her late age and may lead to complications, both for the mother and child.

The children said that in that case we should go in for an adoption.  They wanted a sibling at any cost.  I realised that there was something more to this strange request as the very subject had come up for discussion during the family dinner a year back and was then dismissed for the same reasons.

Now it was my turn and I asked them as to what they really wanted.  Out came the new proposal! “We want a dog”.

Marina and I never before had a dog while we were with the Indian Army, where all the help was available to rear one. Unlike many officers in our Regiment who had a dog or two, we did not choose to have one.

I was of the opinion that it would be difficult to take care of a dog as it has to be reared indoors because of the severe Canadian winter.  Further, having a dog meant taking it out on a walk, irrespective of the weather and cleaning up the poop would add to our routine chores.   Marina, a hygiene freak, did not like the idea of a dog shedding its hair all over the house.

The children had ready answers to resolve our concerns.  Nikhil would take the dog out on a walk, vacuum clean the house and clean the poop in the morning before going to school.  Nidhi would do the same in the evenings after she returned from the university.  They both agreed to sleep with the dog in the family room and train him to use the doggy-door to exit the house for defecating and urinating.

They had also zeroed in on the breed and the breeder from whom we could obtain a black Labrador pup for $750.  The eagerness, enthusiasm and power of their pleas was overpowering. Both of us had to relent and we agreed to pick up the pup during the weekend.

We drove to a village near Windsor, about 350 km, where the breeder lived and picked up a pup.  The children had already thought of a name and christened him Maximus Koduvath, after the hero of the movie Gladiator.

My mind wandered off to our childhood when my younger brother, the youngest in the family, aged four, had then come up with a similar request.  He wanted someone younger to him.  It was all because he was at the losing end of all the physical fights we siblings had.  At the time our parents solved the problem by getting him a kid – a goat’s kid.

The children trained the dog, took him out on the walks and kept the house spotlessly clean, for all of one month and gave up steadily thereafter as they had to commit more time to their studies and extra-curricular activities.  Now the dog became mine and I had to do all these, with a bit help from the children.

The morning and evening walk became a ritual for me – come rain, hail or high-water.  I started enjoying my responsibility as the days passed by and Maximus became more and more attached to me.  I couldn’t fathom how strong the emotional bond was until I went to India for three weeks, Maximus refused to eat as I was not there to feed him.  After two days there was an SOS message from the children about Maximus being on a fast unto death.  I now called up home and the call was put on the speaker-phone.  I told Maximus to go and eat.  Maximus was bewildered that he could hear my voice but not see me.  Poor Maximus was obviously unaware of the technological leap that mankind had taken.  After circling around the house a few times and not finding me, he again came to the phone.  Now I repeated my order and Maximus went to his cage to eat his food.

Taking care of Maximus, I too got attached to him.  It seemed he could understand me in which ever language I spoke, be it English, Malayalam, Hindi or Tamil.  I observed him closely and he was indeed an inspiration for me to write  a few blog-posts – Crossing the Highway; Dogs and the Fire Hydrants; First, Middle and Last Name; Adaptation and Pet Emergency.

Thus Maximus became my best friend.  It was Frederick II, King of Prussia, who coined the statement that the dog is man’s best friend.  The saying was popularised by Ogden Nash in his poem titled ‘The Dog’.

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In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, the Pandavas along with their wife Draupadi after renouncing their Kingdom, began their journey to the heavens through the Himalayas.  Yudhisthira, the eldest of the Pandavas led the way.    At the start of the journey, a dog befriends them and keeps them company throughout.  During the journey, one by one, they fall to their deaths – the first was Draupadi, followed by Sahadeva, Nakula, Arjuna and Bhima.   Yudhishthira continued his journey and all this while, the dog kept him company.  Just before it was time to ascend to the heavens, Indra, the God of Heaven said that only he, Yudhishthira, could enter the heavens and not the dog.  Yudhisthira was adamant that he would not leave his faithful companion behind and enter heaven and sat down at the gate.  He now turned and found that the dog transformed back into its real shape- the God Dharma.

Scientists have proved that dogs use similar brain mechanisms to humans to process social information.  They also found that canines’ brains are sensitive to acoustic cues of emotion, like us.  Researchers also found that when humans and dogs look into each other’s eyes, they experience a surge of oxytocin, the hormone associated with trust and love that is released.  This could be responsible for the bonding humans enjoy with dogs.

Humans in general, demand more love than they give. This behaviour lies at the root of most inter personal conflicts. If only we humans have the capacity for unconditional love that dogs do!  The world would be so much a better place!

 

 

Why Play Chess With Your Children?

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Sachin Tendulkar, one of the greatest batsmen in cricketing history recently said that he played a lot of chess with his brother, but without much good result, but he did enjoy the game.  He added that his son too took to chess first and then moved on to cricket.

What are the advantages of chess?  Why should you play chess with your children, at least on weekends?

The best habit you can help create for your child is one that encourages a bond between the two of you. If you play weekly game of chess with them, your kid will feel special.  Become your child’s chess partner and enjoy the results. Always remember that chess is not for nerds! It is for cool parents and cool kids.

Game for of All Ages. You can begin chess at any age and there is no retirement. Age is also not a factor when you are looking for an opponent –you can play with your parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts – the possibilities are endless.   Chess helps children with physical disabilities to improve their motor skills as the movement of pieces are in the left, right, forward, backward and diagonal ways.

Chess is Fun.   Unlike many of today’s video games, chess leads to interesting conversations as well as unsuspecting humour. The game causes a person to interact with another human being in an activity with endless possibilities.

Creative Game.  No chess game ever repeats itself, which means you create more and more new ideas with each game. It is never boring and repetitive. You always have something to look forward to. Every game you are the general of an army and you alone decide the destiny of your soldiers.

Cheap and Easy Entertainment. Considering the monthly bills of satellite TV, and video games, which reduces real communication between family members, chess is a real good option. The game of chess has been around for centuries, and once you begin to play it, you are sure to be immersed in it. Playing chess with your child gives you an excuse to make time for your child.

Develops Memory. The chess theory is complicated and many players memorise different opening variations. You will also learn to recognise various patterns and remember the variations.  Chess is also a game of experience. If you want to win successive games, you will have to learn from your earlier mistakes. Chess surely enhances your memory power.

Develops Logical Thinking.  The game of chess forces players to multi-task, plan ahead, and make real-time executive decisions. Chess disciplines the mind, which  is ideal for children, as they are constantly yearning for opportunities to be challenged. Chess requires some understanding of logical strategy. Mistakes are inevitable and chess is a never-ending learning process.  Chess develops the capability to predict and foresee consequences of actions.

Promotes Imagination, Concentration and Creativity. It encourages you to be inventive. There are an indefinite amount of beautiful combinations yet to be constructed.  Chess has also proven its ability to calm aggressive children. The need to sit still in one place and concentrate on the board will bring  a calming effect on children.

Self-Motivating. It encourages the search of the best move, the best plan, and the most beautiful continuation out of the endless possibilities. It encourages the everlasting aim towards progress, always steering to ignite the flame of victory.  You are forced to make important decisions influenced only by your own judgment.  The more you practice, the better you will become. You should be ready to lose and learn from your mistakes.

Chess and Psychology.  Chess is one game that teaches a child patience and willpower. It improves a child’s ability to interact with his opponent albeit in a silent way. This enhances confidence as well as self esteem and makes one a good listener. Listening can go a long way in improving interpersonal skills.  Chess tests your sportsmanship in a competitive environment.

Body Language.  An important feature one will learn in chess is the ability to judge body language. Being able to read expressions when a game is in progress is what will help one plan in advance. This, while applicable to the moves on the chess board are equally important in one’s life. Being able to anticipate issues will allow you to plan in advance and this will hold you in good stead no matter what situation you are faced with. Planning ahead has some great rewards, while lack of planning can result in a check mate

Chess and Your Child’s Grades. Chess develops the scientific and logical way of thinking. While playing, you generate numerous variations in your mind. You explore new ideas, try to predict their outcomes and interpret surprising revelations. You decide on a hypothesis, and then you make your move and test it.  Each game is different and there are several numerical possibilities to a strategy. Having to deal with this will develop a scientific way of thinking which is very essential when faced with multiple solutions to a problem. Being able to quickly analyse the effects of each move is what will enhance a child’s mental mathematical as well as analytical abilities.

When in Grade 8, being fascinated by the game, I requested my friend Aravinda Bose to teach me the game and he was all too willing to teach me and take me through my ‘Green Horn’ days.  On returning home for vacations, we procured a chess set from our father and I taught my three other siblings to play chess.  We played each other and learnt a lot from it.  Later I taught our children to play the game and now they beat me hollow. From my experience of learning and teaching the game at a young age, one of the recommended methodology to teach chess to children would be as follows.

Acquire pictures of the characters in medieval time warfare from the internet. Then introduce the child to the Pawn first and explain that persons’ role in the army. This is to help him develop a personal relationship with the piece which will give a better understanding, or feel, of that piece’s place and role. Place the chess-board on the table with the bottom right hand square as white.  As you play, engage the child in constant conversation directed at the move just made, potential next move, and so on. Explain why this move might not be such a good one, and why this move would be a good one.

Once you believe he is totally comfortable with the moves and responsibilities of the Pawn, introduce the King. After the pictures and description, add him to the board with the Pawns and continue to play. Continue in this theme introducing the other pieces to the child in this manner, taking whatever pace that child requires. Never rush them to the next thing as long as they are still struggling with what they have been doing. Watch closely for signs of boredom and be prepared to stop play and go do something else for a while. By following this methodology when you have finally arrived at a full board of players, your child will have a thorough knowledge of each one, know them like family and be prepared to move into the more complex moves.

If you are fortunate enough to see your child stick with it and learn the game, you will have set the child’s foot on the path to a much easier adjustment in school, better learning abilities and a far greater chance of succeeding in whatever the child attempts.

Importance of Parent-Child Communication

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Often heard from parents of University students that they do not listen to them. It must all be because when the very same children were young, the parents did not have time and energy to listen to them. Obviously, now one cannot expect the children to listen to the very same parents on becoming adults. Communication play a big role in Parent-child relationship, especially in the modern society.

Being an at-home father and having brought up a daughter and a son through their teenage in Canada and also having observed behaviours of many parents and children, some of the aspects that came to my mind are discussed below.

A family and a home is not a private limited company, but is a public company where the parents and children, all have equal stakes. Along with the stakes comes duties and responsibilities. It is mandatory for the parents to ensure that they do their bit and also that the children do theirs. Making the children do chores at home, making them participate in all family activities, ensuring that their academic pursuits are successful, encouraging them to pursue their hobbies and interest and also their sporting interests and above all communicating with them to achieve the aforesaid is what the parents have got to do.

The rules and ideas suggested below have worked with our family, earlier in the Indian Army environment and now in the Canadian environment. It is neither a remedy or pill for success nor a ‘Dummies for Good Parenting’. You may accept some, modify some and reject some, based on your judgment.

Show Interest.         Convey to the child that you are interested and involved and you are always available for help. Whenever the child speaks to you, make sure that you turn off the television or put the newspaper down. Avoid taking a telephone call however important it may be, as for most of us, nothing can be more important than our children.

Converse in Private. The best communication between you and the child will occur when others are not around. It would be good idea to take the child out for a drive or to quiet corner in park or a coffee shop. Many a times the child would like to discuss matters in the presence of either the mother or the father or at times both. Our son opens out his mind and discusses all his thoughts and ideas while I drive him to school or for his swimming/ guitar/ tennis lessons. He never discusses these in front of his mother or sister, fearing ridicule. Our daughter identifies with her mother better.

Do Not Dictate.        Putting a child down, especially in front of others, is both embarrassing and disgusting for any child. This will lead only to resentment and hostility, never good communication. Try to physically and mentally get down to the child’s level and then talk.

Never React.            When you hear about a behavior or an incident which makes you angry, do not attempt communication until you regain your cool, because you cannot be objective until then. If you ever admonish the child immediately, you can be rest assured that the child will never report any such instances in the future. Always analyse the situation and try and get maximum details from the child and may be at times from the teachers and friends, and then deliver your judgment. Assist the child in planning some specific steps to the solution and along with it provide or suggest remedial actions or methodology as to how to deal with similar situations in the future in a more dignified and mature manner.

Be a Patient Listener.        In case you are tired after a day’s work, you will have to make an extra effort to be an active listener. Coax and encourage your child to bring out more details. Teenagers tend to use slang and at times un-parliamentary language in their narration. Do not ever hang on to these words as the true picture will be lost immediately. You must advise the child to curb his profanity at a later time. Listen carefully and politely. Do not interrupt the child when he is trying to tell his story. Be as courteous to your child as you would be to your best friend.

Preach the Least.   Preaching is never helpful in getting communication open and keeping it open. Never come out with sob stories about the difficulties and lack of facilities you had in your childhood. Avoid using the lines like “You only talk when I am done”; “I know what is best for you”; “Do What I say”; “I never spoke like this to my parents”; etc.

Reporting Procedure.       Always encourage the child to speak to you about what happened at school, at an outing for a movie with friends, a party etc. Always be informed as to where the child is going, who all are accompanying and the back-at-home time. Your questioning technique should be such that the child will inform you all these details prior to even planning an outing with friends. On return from the event, make sure that you obtain a feedback on the activity. Never ask why but always ask what happened. You really need to prod to get the teenager speak about it and what you get will always be the tip of the iceberg, rest you got to extrapolate. Your reactions should be such as to ensure that the child reports such events, without asking, in future. Nowadays when I pick up the children after an event, on entering the car, they start off with their briefing.

Encourage, Accept and Appreciate.     Show that you accept the child himself, regardless of what he has or has not done. Always appreciate the child for the 93% marks he scored than admonishing him for the 7% he lost. You got to encourage him and advise him as to how he can do better. Say a word of appreciation like “Thank you” or “You did a nice job”, when the child does any chores at home. Never use put-down words or statements like “Stupid, that makes no sense at all” or “What do you know, you are only a child”. Once when our son made a cup of coffee and brought it up to my table. I took a sip and I heard our son say “Welcome”. I realised my folly that I had failed to appreciate his effort and the least he expected was a “Thank You”. In India we take many such actions for granted and have never developed the habit of appreciating, the idea being driven in that if you appreciate, it will spoil the child.

Participative Decision Making.   Involve the children in as much decision making as possible like the colour scheme for the walls of the home, flowers to be planted in the garden, selection of the restaurant and menu for a family dinner, family summer vacation, etc. Try and accommodate all their aspirations, at times against your own interest and wish; you may not get such an opportunity later in life. During our summer vacation to Chicago, our children wanted to go sky-diving. The main point of interest being video graphed during the free fall without the helmets (wearing helmets in the state of Illinois is not mandatory, but wearing goggles are). On reaching the sky-diving center we realised that our son was not eligible to participate being below 18 years of age. So the mother and the daughter sky-dived and the father-son duo decided to undertake the adventure after our son turned 18.

Cultural and Family Barriers.      Try not to bring in any cultural and family reasons regarding the way the teenagers dress, the friends they interact with and activities they are involved in. Many parents persuade their children from wearing short dresses or going out with friends as being ‘Against our culture’. This tends to make the teenagers rebellious and many end up taking rash and illogical decisions, more to prove to their friends that they are liberated, not bound by their parent’s culture or religious beliefs. During a summer barbeque party at an Indian friend’s place, a teenage girl was surprised to find our daughter in shorts. She inquired as to whether the parents had no objection to the dress. Our daughter said that she was used to wearing shorts back home in India as she grew up in a military environment.   The teenager said that she was not permitted to wear shorts, but she always wore one inside her jeans to school and on reaching the school would  take off her jeans. It is not an uncommon sight around high schools where girls come in fully covered from head to toe and after a few minutes you find them at the smokers’ corner wearing the skimpiest dress.

Parent Teacher Interactions.      “How is my child doing?” is a standard question every parent asks and the standard reply by the teacher will be “very well”. Many fail to understand that it is “very well” to the effort put in by the child and the parent’s involvement. Rather, it would be more prudent to enquire about the behavioral and leaning aspect of the child and the topics being covered in future in the class. This way one can the least contribute to the child’s development.

Remove all Barriers to Communication.          Modern gizmos like the Cell phone, Ipod, Ipad, hand-held gaming consoles etc are always barriers to communication. Children fail to listen to what is being said and to observe what is happening around. One must lay down strict time slots for their use and never allow them to be used during any family time: during the meals, family outings, get-together, etc. The rule at our home or in the car is that when in company of any family member, no ear phones are permitted. In case music is to be played, it should be audible for all.

Sex Education.       The most difficult subject for many parents to broach with their teenage children, but once you take the first bold step towards it, it becomes easier and would always be a rewarding experience. Studies indicate that adolescents whose parents talk to them about sex tend to be less sexually active and more likely to use an effective means of contraception. Many parents are not able to provide all the information about sex that young people need. Only a few ever got a good idea from their parents that helped them talk about sexual issues with their girlfriend/ boyfriend.   Parents must be the primary source of information about sexual and reproductive health for their children and not what they learn from their friends or through media or from the internet. Our son’s favourite line being “All my thirst for sex was quenched the day I discussed it with my dad.”

We humans are a rare species when it comes to parenting. We are conflicted between excessive care and a willingness to let them loose. We are eager to be their friends, but also to set firm boundaries. We want all their problems to vanish in a blink of an eye, but we also want to prepare them to face hardships on their own. We suffer when they make mistakes, but we don’t let them see our suffering. All these paradoxical behaviors build the barriers we face when communicating with our children.