Missing in Action – Sadya to Superfast !

I was flying down the stairs…. A green flag swaying a few feet below… A trumpet like sound blowing from a distance… And me waving my hand enthusiastically at the flag… I felt like a Maniratnam movie heroine in the climax of a romcom movie…
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No this is not a dream sequence from a movie… These were the thrilling moments from my day today.
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This is how the scene unfolded. Just an hour earlier before this scene, I was enjoying a nice Sadya, A Kerala feast, for lunch. My friend Sitara’s mother, Bhavani Aunty, had arranged a tasty spread, in the traditional manner.
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The Lunch

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Sitara and me after a quick shopping session, sat down the kids for the treat. All of us had devised individual customized algorithms to maximize the sadya experience. I for example started with ada pradaman, and ended with the same, and punctuated every dish like pulichery, olan and erichery with ada pradaman payasams ! The kids scooped the payasam in the poli and devoured it.
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The ticking of the clock in the dining hall was the reminder that we cannot be sitting in an endless loop of the sadya ; we had a train to catch !! We somehow halfheartedly got away from the table.
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Sadya !

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The dear friends, Abhimanyu-Tharan & Rahul-Ananth tried to play till the last minute. That was their way of saying goodbye.
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We were ready, but the driver was missing ! My friend called him and he said he was on his way. Probably he too was having a great lunch ! At long last he came, and we had about 15 minutes to catch the train. He raced through the streets of Trivandrum, and we literally jumped out of the car at the station. Two porters chatting casually and having a leisurely afternoon, were pressed into active mode with our arrival. I said we had 2 minutes to get on our train, and told them the train name. They seemed to accept the challenge ! My kids and me sprinted across the platforms and impatiently walked up the moving escalator and ran across the over bridge. We were following the racing porters blindly, as I had no clue as to which platform we were to board. As we were crossing the bridge, they slowed down. I was puzzled. They simply said ‘train poiyee’. I refused to believe and thought that according to IST, there were another 10 minutes for the train to leave. But they pointed a moving train to me. It was just starting and I was hoping to catch it. I motivated them that we can and my kids ran ahead trying to stop the train.
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This is the place where the first scene falls in place. As I was waving out frantically to the guard holding the green flag, he looked at me and I shouted stop. My voice would not have reached him definitely.
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Did I say earlier that I felt like a Maniratnam heroine in a climax scene ??!!  Well, that was when I felt hopeful of catching the train. Now I actually felt like Kamal Haasan in ‘Moondram Pirai’ movie climax waving out to an unacknowledging Sridevi in the train 😦 ;(.
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The train kept moving and I believed I could still board the train. Then the train disappeared. The Jan Shatabdi from Trivandrum to Trichur had left platform no:4 at 2.20 p.m, On Time.
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We came to a standstill – the kids, me, porters et al. The other people on the platform too, as they tried to understand our plight. The porters set our luggage down, and a small crowd had gathered around us. I decided not to shed any tear. But I felt lost.
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The people there assumed I understood Malayalam and spoke rapidly asking about our problem; I assumed that they could understand my Malayalam and spoke quickly asking if there was anyway to stop the train or what the next station was. I was surprised by how well I could speak Malayalam, in that panic mode !!
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Somebody said that a Chennai express was departing in 39 minutes. Somebody else said that Nizamuddin Super fast will be starting in another 10 minutes, from the same platform. They offered suggestions to cancel the previous, buy a new ticket, talk to TTE etc etc. My kids were suggesting that we should probably go back to their friends’ grandma’s home, as they can continue playing 😉
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Kids Playing

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I made a quick decision. I decided to try the Nizamuddin. I asked the porters for the charge, and they simply said that they will load our luggage in the new train first, and did not say anything about the money. The train arrived soon enough.
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A couple of people helped us find the AC coach and the porters found empty seats and arranged our luggage. Somebody said that I could convert the previous ticket to this train, but the porters said that it is better to get open general tickets. Seeing that I was travelling with 2 kids and few luggages, they offered to go and buy the tickets. I gave him the money and he got 3 sleeper class tickets.
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I sat down, gingerly, as I was not sure if the TTE would allow us to travel in this compartment. But the kids were already playing live snakes and ladders by climbing up and down the berths !  I noticed the many missed calls from Sitara, who was anxious about whether we were able to board the train, Jan Shatabdi that is. Bhavani aunty too was anxious it seems, probably thinking we spent too much time eating ! But traditional authentic food deserves time, even if it means missing trains 😉
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When the TTE came, I showed him both the tickets, and I had to pay the balance fare (SL to AC).
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We had upgraded ourselves from chair to berth, and express to superfast – albeit at a cost. Experiences like these help us to realize that some strangers are still helpful, that labourers go the extra mile in helping customers, friends care, and, that one can have a feast and still catch a super fast 😉
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Hues of Green - from the train window !

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I am relaxing in my seat now, enjoying the varied hues of green that Kerala covers itself with 🙂
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~Punitha Lakshmi

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WINTER IN WONDERLAND !! ~~ Camping in the Misty Mountains !

DAUNTING DOWNHILL

The rickety pickup truck puffed its way up the steep mountain road. Excited young voices, from the back of the truck were in sync with the haphazard movement of the vehicle ; rising with speed, laughing in turns and hollering in general ! I was squeezed in the front seat with a lady colleague and carton of mountain oranges for company ! I, of course, was enjoying the novel experience !

I could not identify if the truck was hitting a pothole or was on normal road. The vehicle was lurching on the rain eroded ghat roads, at times careening near the sharp turns. After a point, I started a guessing game with myself – will the vehicle tilt to the right or left now ?! But the local young man, who was driving the pickup truck made no guesses while driving. He seemed to know every inch of the road and steered the loaded vehicle very confidently. The inquisitive villagers along the way waved out to us excitedly, while some waved down the vehicle to have a small chat with the driver, to expressly question him about the details and itinerary of his passengers !

After a good forty minutes drive we spotted the familiar yellow bus, our school bus, which was occupied by the students from earlier jeep & truck trips. A batch of the senior students has braved the steep terrain and long distance to trek two hours to the bus from the camp site ! A quick headcount and excited mini- reunions later (friends separated for a maximum period of two hours !), our school buses started the journey to the commercialized part of the hills.

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A scenic spot in Kodai Lake

Kodai Lake was hosting the tourists, hawkers and locals along its paved banks. Its waters, the main attraction, saw boats of many sizes and types. We split ourselves in groups and went out to explore the lake and its surroundings. While some rented bicycles, some chose to walk along the clean pavements. Walking had its advantages, as we could stop for a spicy freshly roasted corn here, a hot pineapple there or a chilly bajji anywhere ! We leveraged our advantage to quieten our creaking tummies ! The girls in my group enjoyed the sights and sounds as we sauntered in the lake’s circumference !

Some quick shopping for homemade chocolates and fragrant oils later, we boarded the bus for the most difficult part of our journey – the downhill drive ! Avomins became the most sought after commodity followed the ubiquitious plastic bag, in case the avomin is inefficient in keeping the contents of the digestive system inside. For once, even the audio system was shut down ! And, all the occupants of the bus maintained a stoic silence, for fear of offending their respective digestive systems which was threatening to retaliate by propelling its remnants up the esophagus and out of one’s facial cavity ! I will not reveal any specific details of that drive, sparing both the reader and the passenger in the process !

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Roasted, spicy corn on the cob !

After what seemed like an eternity, we were finally in the plains. And relieved too ! A hearty lunch and lots of lemon sodas rebooted our systems and the students got back their verve ! From then on all the way to Pondicherry the mood was festive, with the students making up for the quiet time downhill !

The adventurous trip was in its last leg, and I dozed intermittently, for a teacher can never sleep deeply when chaperoning students.

THE PATHFINDERS

The Pathfinder Camp, has been an important event in the annual calendar of  The Study L’ecole Internationale, Pondicherry for a few years now. The Camp Director Dr. Kisku, has been at the forefront in organizing these camps in a purposeful way. While the junior camp, for 3rd to 6th graders, focuses on inculcating self-reliance in the kids, the senior camp, comprising of grades 7 to 12, challenges the students to higher levels of physical endurance through adventure and mental ability through puzzles and games – all in the outdoors of the pristine hills . The learnings in the four days of camping would in effect be equivalent to many weeks of classroom instruction.

PERSISTENCE PAYS

This year’s camp had been overwhelmed by delays ;  the original date in late September clashed with the weekend a court in a neighbouring state chose to convict a famous politician in another neighbouring state. The trip was cancelled due to the ensuing mob violences across the 2 states and 1 UT. The students were disappointed, but soon enough started awaiting new dates for the camp. The second time the camp was planned was in early November. An active NE monsoon was bringing in copious rainfall and landslides in the mountains. The Principal, Mrs. Alice, had to take a call in this and the camp was postponed again. The students were disappointed, but had not lost hope. And their patience was rewarded in the third week of December, when all the campers finally boarded the bus to Kodaikanal one cold early morning ! The 100 students, teachers, staff and drivers were ready for the challenges ahead !

The bus. after a pleasant journey, stopped at a small hill town, Perumal Malai. We jumped out of the bus, due as much from the eagerness to breathe the fresh mountain air, as also to stretch our cramped muscles. And, we did get around two hours to work our restrained muscles and exercise them, in our trek to the base campsite !

A hot homemade lunch awaited us at Kodai Camp, our home for the next four days. The students were given a choice of lodging – dorm, big tents or small tents. Ultimately, the younger ones were accommodated in dorms, while the seniors students took over the tents. The group gathered around the campfire for songs and interactions. The quiet, remote valley resonated with the voices of wonderful children.

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A cute calf in the campsite !

TREKKING INTO NATURE’S HEARTLAND

It was 8.30 in the morning and all the campers had assembled to start their trek through the Elephant Valley. The trek leads, guides and teachers/camp counselors made sure their group was suitably equipped with water, snacks, team spirit and adventurous attitude !

A hut in the forest

A lovely hut in the forest ! My dream house !

The mountains and valleys were covered by a thick envelope of mist and fog, giving an alluring aura to the hidden beauty. The visibility was only a few feet at its best in the trail. It was as if one had to tear open the Veil of foggy ignorance to realize the hidden Summit of Truth Within. Nature carries life’s signposts everywhere in Existence.

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A village woman going home with the days rewards.

The city bred kids and adults seemed to find their foothold over the mountain trails pretty quickly. Some fell on pebbly trails, some slided over rock faces, some glided over smooth surfaces and many rested at every opportunity ! Hands were held out to rescue the one’s stuck, bags were carried by the stronger one’s, snacks shared and songs sung ; but silence too reigned intermittently when even the kids were awed by the forest sounds.

Just walking ma'am !

Just walking ma’am ! Really !

Some parts of the slopes were eroded due to the heavy rains, exposing more rocks underneath. The roots and grasses, a trekkers natural hand bars, provided the grip in the steep slippery slopes. I had divided my team of 11 into micro groups of approximately 3’s, thus minimizing the chances of an individual getting lost. Two is a crowd in lonely forests, a desired crowd infact !

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Climbing the slippery slope

Our trek started through a spice garden and then running into an orange grove. We picked up the fallen oranges to savour the fresh flavor and aroma ! A steep walk up a paved road brought us to the edge of the wild forest – the profuse animal droppings seemed to be the welcome sign to their natural habitat ! From that point on we were leaving the last signs of civilization and going into unspoilt nature.

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Lemon grass fringed trail !

How respectful should one be when one is a guest in another’s home ? Shouldn’t the laws of civilization be applicable to human ventures into the forest too ? The students were told to not leave trash the forest, which they complied with in all sincerity.

We trekked through the forest, under the canopy of tall and short trees. The narrow trails, just a foot or two wide at the maximum, was bordered by wild shrubs, trees and spice plants. It seemed quite dark at places. And the, suddenly the mountain seemed to open her arms to welcome her persistent children !

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“Are we crossing mountains ?!” Trekking to somewhere in low visibility !

The vista was wide open now. The mist became thicker, the tress had fallen back in the trail and we seemed to be on the steep slopes of the mountain. I say seemed to, because we were not really sure of how steep or how deep the slopes were. At one point it looked like we were crossing from one hill to the next, sometimes it looked like we were circumambulating a mountain. Few instances it looked like we were climbing higher to the very peak of that mountain. We had no way of confirming anything then.

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“Where are we ?!!”

Our trek guides were with us, helping us navigate the tough terrain. Some places we were wandering alone (in micro groups ofcourse). We stuck to our groups and were guided by the few feet of visibility before us, sometimes just a foot ahead. Lemon grass, a prized herb in the cities, was growing all along the slopes lending fragrance to the air. It provided the only grip in some places.

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The top of the steep falls

In all this adventure, we did time for selfies, pictures, talks and lots of fun. How can one not have fun when surrounded by kids ?!! We were also well past lunch time and snacks were passed around to keep the tummies happy. Every teacher took the utmost care to see her group safe through the trek.

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Gorge receiving the water from the falls

At a point near a falls, all the students converged. The water falls had a steep drop into the gorge below and the view from the top was breathtaking. Our next stop was the river that was the source of this falls. It was a gentle river, with just two feet deep at its centre – a perfect place for splashing in the water ! And this exactly what all the kids did – jumped into the water to wash away all the fatigue due to the six hour trek.

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A quaint village temple covered in mist

The mist was closing in more heavily on the river now, as if telling us that visiting hours were over and the river and the forest need to get their beauty sleep ! We continued our trek out of the forest and onto our campsite through a small village. It was a beautifully adventurous day into Nature’s Heartland, where everyone, including the teacher becomes the taught.

misty river

Misty River !

Hot baths and hot meals soothed our weary bodies, and the kids bounced right back into action after a brief break ! Children are indeed the powerhouse of energy !

TEAM BUILDING

The sun shone a little the next day and we discovered that our campsite was surrounded by huge mountains, in layer after layer ! The mist had hidden this secret the previous two days. Our trek guide traced the trek route we had covered the previous day. From the comfort of our camp, we realized the arduous trek we had accomplished  – straddling a few mountains, forests and valleys ! It was like looking at the x-ray in a doctor’s office through a well lit board ! The sun was shining the spotlight on our trekking path, perhaps as a reward to the endurance of the entire team !

Collage KODAI

Pathfinders in blue – a cool collage !

The day was spent in team building activities designed by a team of resource people in the outdoors – photo scavenging, spotting, nature scavenging, plank walking etc. Each activity required the participation and contribution of each and every child. And making the every child to come out with ideas and involvement was the success. As a testimony to the inclusive nature of the camp, my younger son in 4th grade who accompanied me to the camp, was made part of the teams right at the beginning. The 12th graders heard out his ideas as much as they did a 7th graders.

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Camping grounds with the mountains as backdrop !

Co-operation, inclusiveness, initiative, team spirit, idea generation, responsibility and other such lofty ideals would remain just that – lofty ideals – if confined to text books or dry sermons by teachers in classrooms. I am by no means undermining the value of the textbook or teachers – I have utmost regard for both. But it is only in a sports ground or in the wilderness that a child can get the time and space to practice first hand and make these lofty ideals a habit, a recurring habit. I am a staunch believer in this. I am fortunate to be working in an institution that too believes and practices this.

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Hula Hoopers !

SPECIAL MENTIONS

A special mention about our super seniors, the 12th graders, where the ‘super’ is not just a category name but an adjective to those seniors. They took their juniors under their wings, looked out for them, helped them out in difficult tasks, and coordinated with their teachers and other resource people to make this camp a success ! They were an inspiration to their juniors too, my kids still bring in the name of their senior annas and akkas when discussing the camp.

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Tandem Bridge ! The seniors leading from the front and guiding from the rear too. The juniors learning team spirit !

It is wrong to stereotype an entire generation as irresponsible or brash or brand them with other such adjectives. Sometimes we have to trust them and give them a free hand to let them experience their goodness and potential. And the perfect setting to initiate this would be away from the classroom or even home, as the classroom dynamics sometimes comes too loaded with pre-conceived baggage.

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Stories by the camp fire ! Pic courtesy : The Study

Sending out fit and responsible citizens out into the world is the responsibility of every parent, teacher, school and college. I am sure that these students will definitely Be the Change in the place and time they live.

Tha cubed !

‘Tha’ cubed 🙂

My colleagues, camp director, the resource people, the campsite owners, their staff, the students – everyone contributed to make this camp a true ‘Winter in Wonderland’ !!

ADIEUS !

It was past midnight when we reached back to school. The eager parents were happy to get back with their kids. Teachers and students were bidding adieus with a heavy heart, for the bond had grown in the four adventurous days.

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Cheered by the students to try this very long roped tyre swing ! An exhilarating experience !

~Punitha Lakshmi

MY BUCKET LIST – New & Revised : Part 1 – Punitha’s Ark

 

Part 1 – Punitha’s Ark

Not very long ago, my bucket list was simple and straight forward :

1. Become a published author/poetess

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5. Trek in the Himalayas with kids

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15. Do a self-driven cross-country road-trip with friends

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50. Chase the monsoon, from onset to exit, across the Indian sub-continent

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60. Scuba dive in the coral reefs

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75. Cycle in the Swiss Alps

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99. Spend the rest of my life happily in a bamboo cottage by a serene river within a monsoon drenched forest !

100. Have a peaceful, non-violent, instant, natural death – amidst Nature !

 

The above list was ‘current’ & ‘for life’ till 2 months ago ! Sigh… isnt this list simple & straightforward ?!! If you don’t agree, wait till you read ‘Punitha’s New & Revised Bucket List’ !

Now my new & revised bucket list is colourful – and complicated .

Before I familiarize you with my new bucket list, I’ll have to tell the story behind the need for revising my bucket list !

It all started one early morning a few weeks ago . I woke up as usual, much before the sunrise and headed straight to the kitchen to start the coffee filter, and hence the day. Lo, I seemed to have floated from the bed to a brook ! In my semi-sleepy state I thought that perhaps no.99 on my bucket list was being fulfilled !

In drowsy ecstacy I was ready to bend down and cradle the brook water in my palms while my heart recited Tennyson’s poem :

I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,

But a mild smell alerted me to the contrary. I switched on the light and realized in shock that my kitchen was flooded. The water was covering my toes and the floor was slippery.

I felt like Noah surveying the Great Flood ! My immediate worry was about my choice of food to be taken into the Ark, were I able to build one ! Filter coffee ofcourse was mandatory on my list, and infact would be my only preference on the food list ; especially it being my coffee time ! The second choice in the list was wide open. Should it be my kids’ favourite chocolate drink, or their health malt that they would rather avoid ?! Perhaps the choco drink could double up as our dessert too, what with we all having a sweet tooth !

Then ofcourse I had to worry about the selection of living creatures for Puni’s Ark. Assuming that my two kids would willingly jump aboard the ark for safety (I bet they would rather swim and enjoy in the floods !), I can just let out our fishes in their natural habitat ! I could also imagine cockroaches, lizards and tadpoles sneaking onto the ark…..

Punitha's Ark

Coffee Time in Puni’s Ark ! Pencil Sketch on Paper

 

My de-caffeinated brain protested against this thought overload, and refused to process my selection algorithm ! So, I shut off my mind and ambled to the bathroom. Brush in hand, I opened the tap expecting a smooth line of water, but all it could offer me was air. I tried the other faucets, with the same result. Phew… I now had a flooded kitchen and an empty water tank to tackle ! I switched on the motor and waited for the tank to fill again.

But I was not sure yet how the kitchen got flooded – was it a leak from the tap, or perhaps the drainage outlet was improper ? The flood water looked clear and clean… so my wager was on the former guess. In that case, would refilling the tank replenish the flood ? How am I going to throw out the flood water ? Is there a way other than manually scooping out the water ? My scientific temper flared and I visualized a siphon attached to a hose to redirect the water directly to the garden below !

But my brain, still decaffeinated refused to cooperate. So I decided to do what a coffee aficionado decides to do when faced with such calamity – have a coffee ! After all is there anything that cannot be solved over a cup of coffee ??!! Even if not, everything else can wait !!

I waded through my very own ‘brook’ and started the coffee filter. With coffee in hand, I waded out of the kitchen triumphantly with my prized beverage.

While thus lounging in my couch, coffee in hand, I became oblivious to the flooding and enjoyed the early morning bird songs drifting in through my window !. I think only Virgoans can sport such a leisurely attitude amidst a crisis ! Atleast, one Virgoan can 😉 !

Anyways, once caffeinated, I was in a dilemma on whether to stock up my ark or tackle the waters. I decided to clear the flood and tackled the problem in earnestness. After a good half hour of scooping, pushing and throwing out buckets of water, my kitchen floor emerged again, much like how Lemuria would from the ocean depths, if one were able to divert the ocean water from that spot. I smiled triumphantly.

Little did I know that my ‘bucket list’ had just started – with numerous check boxes embedded in it.

~~~~Updating Bucket List… Stay tuned please… !~~~~

~Punitha Lakshmi

Bonding over Bicycles !

The air was moist and cold. It was dark and the world was still in dreams. But not so for us ! We were eager to get on our bicycles and bond !

My brother Prasad and me decided to bicycle to IIT from Velachery ; I for the reason that I wanted to enjoy a traffic free ride early morning ; my brother partly for the reason that he had no choice as we could not load 6 cycles in a car !! Yes, 6 cycles ! We managed to load my cousin Tharini’s and our 3 kids’ cycles into/onto the Alto !!

The ride from Velachery to IIT was adventurous, with most places still sheathed in darkness.  It has been ages since I cycled with my brother. It was our primary mode of transport during childhood for chess tournaments and hindi classes. We two along with our sister Arthi have traversed the entire Pondicherry, and we have many fond memories from that era – some wonderful and some thrilling 😉 . I was transported back to those wonderful times during this ride !

We entered through the rear gate of IIT and the guard just glanced at us and went back to whatever he was doing , probably he was used to cyclists in strange hours around campus !!

The air was colder inside the campus, owing to the heavily wooded space inside. We cycled our way to the main Adyar entrance . Few students and faculty were in their morning jogs. Our co-riders from Chennai Trekking Club were assembling at the entrance. A few parents and kids had signed up to bond over bicycles on a Sunday morning, forgoing their weekend sleep !

Thilak and me were organizing this event as part of CTC’s 5th bday celebrations ! We took a head count, discussed the route with Noel, an IITian who was also instrumental in getting permission to conduct this event here, and started off towards the car park. Prasad protested jokingly that he had already rode around 10 kms and so his event was over ! But his daughter Sanju was enthusiastic to start off on her maiden long ride on her new bicycle.

Arya, a tiny 6-yr old, in a tiny cycle pedaled furiously to keep pace with the bigger cycles ! And he seemed to be successful ! All the kids were chatting and laughing while cycling around the empty roads.

Warm up & fun games !

Warm up & fun games !

We assembled under a big banyan tree and Vallab, an expert in sports physio, guided the kids and parents through some warm-ups and stretches to make the ride injury free. He had brought colourful rings and had some fun games for kids to improve their agility and loosen their muscles, so important to avoid tearing ligaments.

Now the kids were rearing to get back on their bikes and ride uninterrupted ! Shumon on the bike and Nobal on the cycle, seasoned cyclists, were making sure that all the riders were safe. We had instructed the kids to stick to one lane, and they were very co-operative, well for the most part atleast !

Its always a pleasure to visit the IIT Madras campus. The last time I was here was o organize a kids marathon in january. The lush greenery in the heart of the busy Chennai is like an oasis in a concrete jungle. It was still early in the day and the birds were chirping in the trees. One specialty of this reserve forest, which is part of the Guindy national park, is the vast number of banyan trees with their hanging roots framing the roads like thoran ! This makes the place cool even on a hot summer day  – perfect for any outdoor activity ! And ofcourse the deers and blackbucks stops  everyone in their tracks – just to catch a glimpse of them while we can. But they are camera shy and run off into the woods if they see visitors stopping close to them with a camera !

sun thru trees

Nivya, Gowtham, Ganga Dharan and Naresh, expert photographers from CTC, criss-crossed the cyclists to click some awesome pictures ! The kids were the focus of the show, until one saw an endangered  blackbuck ! Then everyone went in pursuit of these 4-legged wonders to click a perfect wildlife picture !

Agni & Sanju were riding together happily, Kavin was chatting and declaring that he wanted to study at IIT, Arya was performing stunts with his small cycle and Nisreen was enjoying the ride. My kids Abhimanyu & Rahul joined the party after their tennis and immediately got into the groove ! The kids shared their snacks, water and glucose. Kids never need any introductions. They are hardly bothered about the other’s background, they are only bothered about this moment of enjoyment and camaraderie with the other kid !   Kids have the gift to form simple friendships instantly. Not losing this gift as one grows up is also a boon, which few adults have.

Cycling in a lung of the city...

Cycling in a lung of the city…

Noel led the way expertly around campus, and at one point as we were going in loops, it looked like kids would take the lead, having become familiar with the landscape ! The parents should also be lauded for their special effort to join this ride. Muthukumaran, Jovitha, Geetha, Huzefa, Jumana, Prasad and Tharini were a sport in trying out cycling for the sake of their kids !

Many more kids and parents had signed up, but called in the morning to state their inability to join us, because they could not load the bicycles to their cars. We are thinking of solutions to this problem and hopefully next time more cyclists would be able to join such an event.

We took occasional breaks for water or snacks, and sometimes to wait for lost cyclists ! But the kids were going around in circles even during a ‘supposed’ break ! Such was their enthusiasm ! The adults got tired after some time, but not the kids. They did not agree to stop and wanted ‘1 more round’ !! After couple of more rounds, we assembled at the starting point for the intro session !

Kids playing on the Banyan...

Kids playing on the Banyan…

CTC intro sessions are always mid-way or at the end of the event, by which time the participants would be happy and comfortable to reach out to the group ! Kids were swinging from the banyan roots and climbing trees ! They were at their naughty best under the protecting arms of the big banyan tree !  After intros we adjourned to the cafeteria for a hearty breakfast and some much deserved coffee ! Already plans were being hatched for the next trek 😉

The group...

The group…

Bonding over Bicycles is an attempt to bring kids out of the confines of the house to nature , away from screen to outdoor activity. Four hours of fun and fitness has added one more healthy option to the menu of kids activities ! Parents were also happy to spend quality time with their kids while being part of a healthy activity.

With Indian roads largely being unsafe for kids to ride a bicycle, it becomes imperative to organize special events to transmit the joys of cycling to kids, which we enjoyed freely during our childhood. Hoping to bond over bicycles more often. My kids and me cycle together often, and that is one of the most enjoyable activities for us !

Kids cycling Gang !

Kids cycling Gang !

When was the last time you rode a bicycle ? How often does you child ride a cycle ?

~Punitha

 

Mother’s Day Trek 2012 to Nagala !

What does a Mother do on Mother’s day ?? Clean, cook, feed & chauffeur kids, finish her pending office work, do projects for her kids, go about routine, and if one is lucky maybe go to a restaurant or catch a cinema?!

Well, in India many of us don’t even know of this day or are just going about our routine. But this Mother’s Day turned out to be special & adventurous for some fun-loving Moms !! We went on a trek to Nagala, AP on May 13th, 2012 ; with our kids ofcourse ! And this trek was special for me as I was part of the CTC organizing team ! Being in Pondicherry and organizing a trek was a bit tough. But the CTC team helped . It was a great experience organizing a trek for kids !

I do not celebrate special days anymore. For me the attraction in this trek was nature & kids – to be close to Nature & spend time with kids, while making kids familiar with nature & adventure.

This is a new initiative by the newly launched CTC Women’s forum. Chennai Trekking Club is a volunteer driven adventure club based in Chennai that organizes regular treks on weekends.

When I reached Chennai, I had to do some preparations for the trek. My kids were also excited and were giving ideas and suggestions – well Rahul’s idea mostly had to do with stocking up on chocolates, cheetos & other such junk food ! At the end of the day when I was ready to sleep, Sinu called & says one of the vans will be unavailable and we had to make alternative arrangements for transport ! This was at 11.00 p.m and we were leaving for the trek at 4.00 am – we had 5 hrs to come up with plan B. After discussion and few phone calls later we were ready with Plan B !!

The response to this trek was good, and the registration sheet resembled a volatile stock graph – numbers kept going up & down and the chart finally stabilized at the minute we left the city limits of Chennai on the morning of May 13th !! We the organizers Sinu & Punitha were busy with preparations for the last few days, constantly making adjustments with the fluctuating registrations ! 3 vehicles, 23 trekkers and 3 hours of introductions and laughter later we reached the base of Nagala mountains.

Abhimanyu & Rahul on top of tree in Nagala !

After a breakfast with the spread from continental to Indian (read chocos to idlis !), distribution of common goods to be carried and instructions, the lead trekker Ajay marched forward with kids matching his steps and some moms trailing behind. Arjun , Sankara and Chellababu were the mid-sweep and sweep of the trekking group respectively, and, between them the regular CTCians steered us safely up the rocky path. My kids Abhimanyu & Rahul had already been on the same trail a couple of weeks before and hence thought they were experts themselves and tried to match steps with Ajay !

We were a motley group, from a spunky 6 yrs kid to spirited 16 yr old teenager to a saree-clad 60 + yrs mom ; with all ages and shapes in between !! But this was planned to be an easy trek considering the differing endurance levels of the participants. The weather also seemed to be celebrating Mother’s day ; it was comparatively cool on that day and we did not feel much heat once inside the forest.

Abhimanyu & Rahul playing in stream !

The first reward for our relentless march was a stream of water – gurgling down the mountains ! The kids had reached the streams along with the lead trekker and splashed water on all others trying to cross the stream ! Soon most of us were drenched with bottles and cooking vessels being used to do ‘abhishegam’ (drench) on all trekkers ! Kids rolled around in the stream laughingly ! Everyone felt refreshed after a dip in the stream ! We reluctantly left the stream to trek further into the forest. But we did not lose sight of the stream from that point on, as we were walking along its banks !

We passed by the first pool and there were two small challenges on the way, like the walk on the ledge and pulling oneself up a narrow space between the rocks. There was another steep climb down a slippery dry mud path, where one had to hold tree branches and find roots for leg support to navigate. With the help of volunteers everybody crossed the path without slipping into the stream below !

After 2 . 5 hrs of trekking we finally reached the second pool which had a small water fall at one corner. It was a picture-perfect setting for our Mother’s Day picnic :). We threw the backpacks, inflated our swim tubes and jumped into the water ! What a sweet reward for a few hours trek !! All the kids took like fish to water ! Soon they were swimming, floating, splashing water, standing under the small waterfalls and playing in the pool !

A cool pool in Nagala

A few minutes later, some of us set about cooking ! First tea was boiled and while sipping the tea we planned on how to go about cooking our lunch – veg briyani, aloo gravy & raita ! And a delicious dessert in payasam ! Ambitious menu indeed ! But with everyone giving a hand, it seemed easy ! We laid out all the ingredients we had carried and realized we had missed out on some items ! Not losing heart, we tried to tweak the recipes and started cooking; collecting twigs, setting up stones for fire and collecting water for cooking.

In between we took turns to jump into the pool and enjoy the cool waters ! Moms & kids splashing water, pulling the other into water and generally sharing lots of fun on that day. The falls, pools & streams of Nagala are all fed by rain water collected in nooks & corners of the mountains. They trickle down, collect , gain force & take different shapes to nourish the mountains, vegetation and nature enthusiasts like us who take the effort to come there !

After an hour or so our lunch was ready ! Well, on any other day and in any other place nobody, especially the kids,  would have accepted what they saw as veg briyani or aloo gravy – neither the colour nor the form was true to the original dishes ! We, the too many cooks who had spoiled the broth, were wondering how to market this lunch to our group and clean up the vessel ! But luckily the group was famished and had a big appetite after the trek and the swim and were ready to eat anything even remotely resembling food ! We exchanged a triumphant smile on the sly ;). We ladled generous portions of the food onto everyone’s bowl before they realized the taste 😉

More luck was on our side ! Two more CTC trekking groups, one a ladies group, were in the vicinity and as they neared our pool, they stopped and joined us for lunch ! A few tried to remedy the situation by making payasam and that was also finished within a few minutes amid laughter !

It was soon time to pack up and trek to the base. We cleaned the place of plastics and collected it in a trash bag. CTC is very eco-conscious and has no-litter policy which is commendable. CTC also has a no-smoke and no-alcohol policy in treks and camps which raises the reliability of the group. We cleaned even some of the stuff littered by other non-CTCians.

Few of us started first with kids and some volunteers stayed back to complete the clean up. The heat had reduced even more and we reached the stream quickly. This time the other two CTC groups (one of them was the Ladies freshers group and another private group) also joined in playing in the stream. Atlast we moved away and reached base camp.

Mother’s day trek group

The sun was setting beyond the mountains and it was xgetting darker. We clicked a few group photos and chit-chatted for a while. Finally we boarded the vehicles and started back to Chennai!

It was a different Mother’s Day – adventurous & fun ! Low on luxury, more on effort ; less on cost, more on fun !! And it was a wonderful experience organizing this trek and seeing many freshers enjoy the experience ! Thanks to the CTC team of volunteers who helped in making this trek a safe & enjoyable one !

Sunset from rocky bed of stream

It was a lovely day, spending fun moments with kids in a pristine locale ! A true Mother’s Day where I,  the Mother became a child in the lap of Mother Nature – temporarily forgetting all worries and challenges in life…

~Punitha


Happy Campers Speak !! – Kids Trek @ Nagala

Happy Campers ! Charting their trail !!

Write up by Abhimanyu (8 + years) !

Abhi enjoying the cool pool @ Nagala !

Kids Trek at Nagala !

I like the trip very much. It was a wonderful experience.

I woke up at 5.00. I went to Chennai to my Thatha’s house. Then from there I went to Nagala in car. When we reached there, we played some games. Then I went to sleep at 12.30 a.m.

I woke up and brushed my teeth with neem sticks. Then I played for little time, then I climbed very little to watch the lake. Then I got down and had boost with chocos !! Then they gave me cap, lollipop and jelly ! Then my mummy gave us swimming tubes and life jackets. After that we started the trek.

It was so adventurous. I walked so much distance. In half the way we stopped in the stream and took rest. Then we started walking to second pool. All the uncles and aunts helped us .

When I reached the second pool, I gone to swim for a long time ! Then they called us to eat noodles. After I ate I went to swim again ! Then I ate my lunch.

Then we climbed down the mountain and came down. We took group photos. Then I had gone to Chennai again.

I enjoyed the trip very much. I made lots of new friends. The forest was so green !

Abhimanyu

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Write-up by Rahul (6 + years)  !

Rahul enjoys the pool !

Happy Camper !

I was very happy !

I enjoy to swim.

I enjoy climbing rocks.

I, my mummy and my brother enjoyed the camp.

I ate noodles and lollipop.

I got new friends.

I was very happy to come to the camp !

Rahul

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Charged trekkers ! Fresh even after a day of trekking !!

Interpreters of A Dream – 3G Frequency Variance !!!


The following scene took place in our home @ 5.30 am one morning… a few weeks ago…

Puni : (Lazily sipping coffee & talking to kids): Kutties I had a dream last night ! I was in a beautiful forest with lots of trees and rivers. There were some snakes around me !

(The half-sleepy kids perked up their ears & excitedly started a volley of questions !!)

Kids :

Abhi : How many snakes ma ?

Rahul : What colour ? Were you scared ?

Abhi : How many metres long ?

Rahul : Did it raise its hood and hiss ?

Abhi : Was it cobra or python ?

Rahul : I will catch it like Chotta Bheem does !

Puni : whoa… whoa… kiddos… too many questions !! Well…. the snakes were…

(My mom overhears our conversation & does not allow me to finish the sentence… she rattles off her opinion seriously !)

Grandma K : Punitha, I think it is some dosham. We need to go to some nagalinga temple & pray & offer milk to snakes.

Puni : Hayyo… Ammaaa… plzzz nooo… don’t try to put me thru’ that ‘dosham’ circuit again !! You know it doesn’t help me ! No milk, silk etc !!

Kids :

Rahul : Mommy, we will give coke or maaza for snake ! (Bcos he is trying to dodge drinking his morning milk and instead dreaming of some cold drink !!)

Abhi : Rahulllll…. snakes can’t drink all that da !!

Rahul : Snakes can drink maaza ! Right ma ??

Abhi : No, it can’t ! (Continues sarcastically) You don’t even have science subject da… only EVS ! I have a separate science book… so I know better… ha ha ;)))

3 G Frequency - Abhi the Scientist conducts Viva Voce for the Snake ! Mom helps him !!


(Before Rahul could think of a retort, Grandma restarts her agenda !) 

Grandma K : We should go to Kalahasthi. Last time we visited Tirupati we did not go there. That is the place for naga doshams.


Now that Abhi has firmly established that Rahul is an outsider to ‘real science’, he continues to build up his superiority !!) 

Abhi : Rahul, do you know that snakes do not have ears outside their body ?

Rahul : tchchk…. how can that be ? Snakes have ears !!

Abhi : Poda… you dont know any science !

Rahul : I KNOW SCIENCE !! I’ll catch a snake and show you its ears !

3 G Frequency - Rahul the Brave catching a snake valiantly and shows off to Mommy !!

(My mom tries again !)

Grandma K : Was the snake’s hood in raised position ? Atleast you go to some local temple today.

1 G Frequency - Grandma K dreams of taking away all doshams !!

(Watching with amusement the animated opinions of her kids & mom, Puni regrets telling out her dream ! She has not even completed describing her dream, but scores of opinions are already floating around !!)

Raising her voice to be heard above the three…

Puni : Wait wait people… let me complete the description ! I was playing in a river in a forest, lots of trees & birds. A few snakes were sliding on the ground, some were hanging from trees !! The weather was cool and only the sound of the breeze, birds & river was heard ! It was like heaven !!

(Addressing her kids) Abhi, we will do a complete read-up on snakes, ok ?! Rahul, we will go to a zoo and see snakes, deal ?! Amma. NO, I’m not going to feed milk in temple. I think this dream is a call from nature for me to go trekking & camping in a forest soooon !! Even if I have to pay obeisance to snakes, I’ll do it in a forest in its natural abode than in a temple !

2 G Frequency - Puni the Nature Lover sings in the River and is @ Home in the Forest !!

(Puni finishes her long monologue in the gap she found and spells her decision emphatically !!)

Grandma K : One more trek ???? No. Go to temple.

Kids : I’ll also come to the forest !

Puni : Only trekking in forest !! Time to go on a TREK & sleep under the stars !!!

Kids continue their one-upmanship dialogues and also plan to go to a forest with Mommy !

Grandma goes to Pooja shelf to search for some sloka to safeguard against snakes !

Puni rushes off to check out the upcoming treks in CTC ;)) !!!

Peace reigns again !!

This happened few weeks back !

3G Frequency variance – 3 Generations interpreting a dream in 3 (or 4 !) different ways !!

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Forward to the present :

Fortunately, a CTC kids trek (with parent) is coming up this weekend and me & my kids are gearing up for that !! So, this weekend, its time to walk in the forest, jump in the pools, sleep on rocks under the stars… and yeah, pay my respects to the venerable snake !!!

I believe now that dreams do come true !!!! So I’ll continue dreaming !!!

Happy weekend folks !! ‘Citi’zens, stay safe in the cities ;))

~ Punitha