Ignoring human dignity in the name of economic growth is unacceptable #kailashsatyarthi #socialism

I’ve heard the most outrageous snide comments about Kailash Satyarthi winning the Nobel Prize, not just from proponents  of the extreme right in India but also proponents of capitalism in general (I’m aware that Satyarthi wasn’t a friend of any government in the past and fought a lonely battle, for obvious reasons, so this isn’t an attack on the government in power, in that sense).

Anyway, the snide remarks are coming from people who presumably are willing to turn a blind eye to infringement of rights and the law in the name of the free market and economic growth. In the context of child labour and trafficking too, some have asked whether the parents of these children were really happy when they were saved (they were earning members of the family, you see). I am assuming they meant that the trickle down effects of economic development will,, eventually, lead to a situation when parents will not need to sell their children or make them work for a living. And hence that is an argument for rapid economic development using child labour, cheap labour, bonded labour and whatever works to keep industry competitive….

Maybe it is just me, but I find this line of thought extremely twisted and am convinced that there is a need to find some balance. I do not believe India can progress if we throw socialism out of the window. However much we believe in the rewards of capitalism, basic safeguards are necessary to preserve the dignity of human life and the focus must be on ensuring more people are being pulled out of poverty, not just on an enhancement in national GDP.

Having said that, Kailash Satyarthi didn’t just save children and leave them to fall back into the vicious cycle of exploitation and poverty. Instead, he helped them help their families come out of poverty by empowered them in various ways and that is the strength of his work. A few links to read more on this…

“Satyarthi has also helped children sold to pay their parents’ debts to find new lives and act as agents of social change in their own communities.” writes The Guardian. Read here

” (Satyarthi’s) innovative approach of child empowerment through Bal Mitra Gram and bal panchayat (children’s parliament) at a par with gram panchayat has played a major role in getting this recognition (the Nobel)” writes the Times of India. Read here

“Bachpan Bachao Andolan (started by Satyarthi) runs three “transit” rehabilitation centers for rescued boys and girls in India to help them enter the mainstream and lead constructive lives. Younger children are enrolled in school and adolescents are given informal literacy and vocational training. Once they acquire confidence and skills, former child labourers are reintegrated into society. Legal aid is also provided for victims.” An extract from a 2001 award announcement by the US State Department. Read here

Feeding the sparrows! Aadyaa’s best moments in #Berlin

Tired after spending the morning inside the Bundestag dome in Berlin (post here!), we picnicked in the lawn outside. We had had a rainy morning and the bright sunshine that followed offered us the sort of bright light that brings the colours alive and makes everything around look like its straight out of the pages of a computer-rendered drawing!

Picture perfect!

Picture perfect! The buildings surrounding the Bundestag greens

In this setting, Aadyaa discovered the pleasure of feeding the birds when she accidentally dropped a morsel of bread on the grass beside her! The eager and clever sparrows, well versed with tourists, began to seat themselves in the bushes and trees nearby, waiting for one of us to throw out  piece of bread or a broken off potato wafer. Slowly they began to wait in the grass beside us, only a few paces away and it would seem that if we had spent the rest of the day there, they could have eaten out of our hands as well!

In the branches nearby, watching us closely though pretending not to...

In the branches nearby, watching us closely though pretending not to…

And then right next to us on the grass, no longer pretending but staring at our food!

And then right next to us on the grass, no longer pretending but staring at our food!

They know that little girls will feed....

They know that little girls will feed….

...and in return, they will make her smile!

…and in return, they will make her smile!

Needless to say, our little girl was thrilled! My intense pleasure of experiencing the Bundestag dome paled a bit in comparison with her genuine happiness while feeding the sparrows. Rahul and me were spellbound by the extreme simplicity of a child’s mind. Sitting there, deliberately not rushing the kids towards another touristic destination, we were able to see, for a bit, life the way our kids see it. Uncluttered and in the moment!

This post is part of a series on our family’s experiences in Berlin and The Netherlands in the Summer of 2014. Some of the more popular travel posts from this series are:

Udai’s Tenth: The best birthday ever!

Dinner at a windmill: How Dutch can we get?

Remembering Haarlem #1: Of music and dancing

Not a brick in this Wall: Profoundly affected by the Berlin’s history

Visiting the Dinosaurs! What kids loved in #Berlin 2/3

Zoo visit! What kids loved in #Berlin 3/3

Both the kids were absolutely certain of one item on the Berlin must-do list: a visit to the Zoo. Famed to have the most comprehensive collection of animals in the world, Berlin’s Zoologischer Garten (quite a mouthful and Udai practised saying it many times every day, with hilarious results!) is the oldest zoo in Germany, with an interesting history. And true to form, we saw many many species I had never thought I’d see outside of my television screen!

The children were delighted and we spent an entire day there, happy to observe the animals and the humans watching the animals. Of course, a zoo cannot compare to watching animals in the wild, but from an educational perspective, I’m glad we were exposed to such an astonishing array of species. The primate house was particularly impressive, so was the section with night animals where we saw a kinkajou. Now, the kinkajou is an animal we read about in one of the children’s story books and we were all four simultaneously awestruck when we saw one in the flesh! Other highlights were the little joey in her Mumma Kangaroo’s pouch, several types of zebras, the giraffe whose neck wasn’t long enough for Aadyaa and the polar bear, for who we trekked the length and breadth of the fairly large zoo!

Disclaimer: The pictures do not do justice to the fair weather, the well kept environs of the Berlin Zoo and the generally happy state of the animals and those who were out to see them!

Look who we saw first!

Look who we saw first!

Roald Dahl set up some mean expectations about the length of a griaffe's neck when we wrote 'The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me'

Roald Dahl set up some mean expectations about the length of a giraffe’s neck when we wrote ‘The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me’

Udai read every board and discovered that Man was the worst of the lot, going around hunting and killing animals, sometimes for no apparent reason!

Udai read every board and discovered that Man was the worst of the lot, going around hunting and killing animals, sometimes for no apparent reason!

Inhabitants of the primate house

Inhabitants of the primate house

The grand old orangutan showed us a dance with a towel and generally was quite the entertainer. His movements were similar to Tai chi!

The grand old orangutan showed us a dance with a towel and generally was quite the entertainer. His movements were similar to Tai chi!

The gorillas only showed us their backs, so the kids climbed all over this one!

The gorillas only showed us their backs, so the kids climbed all over this one!

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Informative, in case you are on a mission to see all the zoos in the world!

Informative, in case you are on a mission to see all the zoos in the world!

Cute, aren't they?

Cute, aren’t they?

What's the fuss about? Puzzled all the eager human faces staring at her!

What’s the fuss about? Puzzled all the eager human faces staring at her!

Reflecting

Reflecting

The pranced about, these Indochinese tigers. Not a patch on the Royal Bengal Tiger, if you've seen one!

The pranced about, these Indochinese tigers. Not a patch on the Royal Bengal Tiger, if you’ve seen one!

Two-horned, no less!

Two-horned, no less!

Hi Joey! We waited 10 minutes for this Roo to turn around and show us her baby :)

Hi Joey! We waited 10 minutes for this Roo to turn around and show us her baby :)

Have you seen ostrich babies?

Have you seen ostrich babies?

Check out my a$$, say the Zebra, ignoring us completely!

Check out my a$$, say the Zebra, ignoring us completely!

These little ones were just thriving on attention...

These little ones were just thriving on attention, jumping in and out of the water deftly and showing off their swimming and strutting skills!

This one just slept. If she could have, Aadyaa would have walked right over and shaken him awake. Was probably way too warm for him!

This one just slept. If she could have, Aadyaa would have walked right over and shaken him awake. Was probably way too warm for him!

Aadyaa's impersonating a pelican!

Aadyaa’s impersonating a pelican!

And that's our Berlin Zoo selfie! Signing off now...

And that’s our Berlin Zoo selfie! Signing off now…

Visiting the Dinosaurs! What kids loved in #Berlin 2/3

No, it wasn’t just the dinosaurs. Yes, they were the major attraction, but once we got there the  Museum fur Naturkund (Natural History Museum) turned out to be so much more. It was as if a physical force took hold of the children and we were barely able to keep up, chasing after them as they ran from one exhibit to the other, fascinated by creatures preserved inside bottles, by the science of taxonomy, by the preservation techniques on display and all the stuffed birds and animals, by the sheer biodiversity on our planet that hit us when we were in there. It was like an ocean of information, so well presented and it was an absolute pleasure to be here. To quote from their website, this is “one of the most significant research institutions worldwide in biological and geo-scientific evolution research and biodiversity.”

But let’s start with the dinosaurs!

This gallery, the very first one in the Museum, is a result of a highly successful early 20th century German expedition to Tanzania to collect dinosaur fossils. The Germans were prolific discoverers, very strong on scientific rigour and Berlin is a city full of museums because of this. In this one hall, we saw the largest mounted dinosaur skeleton in the world, the Brachiosaurus, which stands 13.27 metres and whose bones were found during the Tendaguru expedition that took place in 1909-1911. The Tendaguru Beds, as they came to be known, yielded many significant dinosaur skeletons and added hugely to our knowledge of this fascinating species that once inhabited the Earth. A skeleton of the herbivore Kentrosaurus or ‘spiky lizard’ that lived  in the Upper Jurassic Period and a reproduction of thos period’s largest carnivore, the Allosaurus with its short front legs and enormous jaws with blade-like teeth are some of the other Dino friends we met in Berlin. Take a look…

Ancient dinosaurs in a heritage building made for a killer combo!

Ancient dinosaurs in a heritage building made for a killer combo!

The tall guy is the Brachiosaurus, the (relatively) shorter one the Kentrosaurus

The tall guy is the Brachiosaurus and this is the largest mounted skeleton you can see in the world today. Hurrah!

And here's the Allosaurus, a bit in dissaray but menacing even so!

And here’s the Allosaurus, a bit in dissaray but menacing even so!

Take a good look at his teeth!

Take a good look at his teeth!

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The Kentrosaurus with his spikes

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General fun clicking the Dinos!

General fun clicking the Dinos!

I’ve noticed time and again Aadyaa is deeply interested in nature while Udai is on a mission for gleaning facts and will read every written word inside a museum (we call him the paisa-vasool tourist, meaning he will eke out the full value from whatever he spends!). And so, the two kids were comrades-in-arms at this museum, Udai reading things out and explaining to Aadyaa, she running ahead to identify the most interesting exhibits. The visual variety in the museum had a lot to do with keeping the kids engaged I feel.

Rows and rows of creatures in bottles, not for the faint-hearted!

Rows and rows of creatures in bottles, not for the faint-hearted!

This fantastic display allowed to see the wonderful biodiversity on Earth all at one go! Fascinating

This fantastic display allowed to see the wonderful biodiversity on Earth all at one go! Fascinating

Stuffed birds with artists sitting around sketching them! All Aadu could ask for!

Stuffed birds with artists sitting around sketching them! All Aadu could ask for!

I have to tell you about this incident inside the museum that really tickled me. Udai and Aadyaa were trying to build a 3D model that shows the different types of outer coverings that Dinos might have had, scaly or feathery. But a piece was missing. Off they marched off looking for it, managing to find the thief and communicate with his German grandpa, finally getting their missing piece back. They went on to toil at the model and posed when it was done, pleased as punch! See the tale in pics!

Fotor0718122824At the tail end of the Museum, I saw all these people lying on a round couch. It was only when the screen overhead began to flash images that I realised this is some sort of planetarium equivalent. The voice over was in German so we didn’t really understand much. But I captured here that aha! moment for which the crowds had been waiting. At one point of the film, the Google Earth image on the screen zooms in to show an image of the people down there on the couch. At the instant I clicked this image, the camera was already zooming out on the screen, but you can see that people spontaneously started pointing to their own faces when that image was shown! Such excitement! Such a simple way to get people to come back again and again!

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Lego madness! What kids loved in #Berlin 1/3

Udai is crazy about Lego. He has been that way since he was say a year old. He made the choice to visit Berlin, inspired in part by the German lessons in school that are still a novelty and mostly by my mention of a Lego Discovery Centre in the city. We found ourselves at the stunningly beautiful and modern Potsdamer Platz at the end of our excursion to the Berlin Wall. It was evening time and we dashed to get into the Lego place, barely stopping to admire the architecture of the Sony Centre, in which the Lego deal is located. Rahul opted out owing to the high ticket charges (Euro 18 per person, unless you book in advance) and I spent two hours with my super excited Lego-crazy kids.

What was inside? Well, I really liked the lego reproductions of Berlin city. They were amazingly detailed and vibrant. I didn’t care much for the Star Wars section and even the kids weren’t captivated by it, though there were spacecrafts moving around and everything was made with Lego. There was a dragon themes ride that puts you in a car and takes you into a castle, with ogres and dragons and knights, all mads of Lego again. There are Lego figures standing around- batman, Hagrid and Harry, you get the drift…

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It’s a small place and the highlight for Udai most certainly was the zillions of Lego pieces at the workstations and time to sit and make stuff. What did he make? Airplanes…duh! Aadyaa just ran around and explored the place. And we topped this all off with a short Lego film at a built-in theatre they had inside.Fotor0718110043IMG_7284IMG_7286IMG_7287

It’s not a very large place and perhaps not exciting for grown-ups, but little detours like this is what keeps children engaged. Especially when we travel to cities that are high on culture and sightseeing, we’ve found to useful to mix it up a little. Once the kids know that we’re willing to do ‘their’ stuff, they are quite happy to do ‘ours’!

PS- I did get some shots of the Sony Centre plaza once we got out of the Lego place, and here they are….

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Fabricating hope from ingredients like poor education & poor ideas

I see a child at the traffic light. He is about two years old, in tattered clothes and howling away. He looks like he has been abandoned, perhaps temporarily. What’s new about that, you might ask? It’s a regular sight in any Indian city. Life is harsh for many out there! *shrug*

One the same day, our Finance Minister was presenting the nation’s annual budget and there was much talk in the air about the revival of investment, the promise of growth and development, the changing fortunes of India.

I was having a hard time reconciling the two strains of thought. I gulped and what I had the taste of bile in my mouth.

Of all the dismal facts about India, it is the ones about children that are the hardest to come to terms with. The trafficking, the child labour, the sexual exploitation. Today’s Hindustan Times carries a full-page editorial about the number of children out of school in our part of the world and this is disturbing too.

Two aspects of the editorial struck me. First, that it wasn’t just poverty that keeps children out of school. India has unleashed a slew of legislation to reinforce primary education- the Right to Education (RTE) Act, the National Programme of Nutritional Support and others. Yet children stayed out of school. Experts attribute this to the poor quality of education that is unable to keep the kids interested. In my research with migrants in north India, I find access to private sector education for their children drives poor households away from villages to small towns, but they are hopelessly disappointed in the quality of these private schools, that offer English-medium all right (as compared to govt schools that teach in Hindi) but no knowledge whatsoever. Also, experts point to the availability of funds but the utter poverty of good ideas that means new investments in the sector are hardly ever realised, especially at the primary and lower secondary levels.

The other idea that struck me was the familiar argument that couches the entire issue of children’s education in the garb of productivity and loos of potential on a national level. To me, more tragic is the experience of the child herself, the family to which she belongs or worse to which she does not if she is an orphan or being trafficked.

We aren’t able to create enough jobs for the ones we do manage to educate, so perhaps instead of worrying about creating a higher volume of educated workforce, we should focus on improving the quality of the education and the experience that children have in school. And higher education? The majority of youth in rural and small town India do not actually attend college, but get their degrees through correspondence and part-time engagements or by simply appearing for exams without ever being taught.

I find it hard to be hopeful about a generation that is barely getting a real education. And yet when you speak to young people, it’s hard to feel so low. They are charged with energy and ambition and I can only hope that we can find a way to not let them down!

Adrenalin rush @ the magical world of Efteling

I once had an ambition to write children’s short stories and someone on my twitter TL had suggested that whatever I write must have dragons, because they held an unfailing enormous charm for children. At the time, I wondered. But I thought of his advice the day we visited Efteling, the 60-year old veteran of amusement parks located in the southern part of The Netherlands.

I’d been there before and knew what to expect, but I wasn’t prepared for the high levels of excitement and energy from the children that day. It took us over two hours to get there from Haarlem on a warm day, but no one minded. And how could we, when we were greeted by the most fantastic dragon ever, one who looked oh-so fierce and belched flames too!

_DSC6493_DSC6497Efteling’s architecture recreated the magical world of castles and dungeons, ogres and knights, elves and goblins and my children were absolutely charmed. Udai, especially, could imagine himself inside one of his books (Harry Potter, Eragon, Lord of the Rings…you get the drift) and his happiness knew no bounds.

_DSC6486_DSC6498For Aadyaa, the focus of excitement were the roller coasters, the crazier the better! And we were really glad she was tall enough to do them, In fact, Rahul had asked her to pull herself up to her full height if someone came with a measuring stick. And she did! A full 120 cms little Aadyaa was on the day we went to Efteling, aided a bit by her sports shoes and her gymnastics training! We did three roller coaster rides back-to-back, waiting for about 30 minutes for each one (not tiring, just builds up the excitement!). They were bizarre, topsy turvy and scary, in that order. We all loved them and the rush of adrenaline stayed with us for a long long time!

_DSC6491_DSC6500Fotor0707123652Fotor0707124228IMG_7212To wind down, we took a serene boat ride, saying hello to all the ducklings and geese we met. And the final elevator ride high into the sky that offers a bird’s eye view of Efteling and beyond. It is then that we realized that the park is located deep inside a protected forest area and all we could see was the dense green cover all around. All the easier for them to create the magical feeling that makes Efteling so special!_DSC6520

Finding Nemo in Amsterdam!

When you are in Holland, you always run the risk of rain! It’s the place that people always complain about the weather and the No. 1 nemesis for outdoors fun is the rain. And so, we thought it imperative to have other tricks up our sleeve the day we decided to wander around the streets of Amsterdam.

Plan B had to be put into action the minute we stepped out of the Central Station. Through the drizzle, we walked to the building I’ve always been curious about, but never been to- the strange maritime structure designed by Renzo Piano that houses the Science Center Nemo.

_DSC6090_DSC6093_DSC6096The children probably didn’t know what to expect, but they were delighted the second they stepped into a hall full of light, friendly volunteers helping them out with all sorts of simple science experiments and the promise of endless discoveries beyond.

Started way back in 1923, the museum took its present avatar, moving into the new building, in 1997 and has since become the 5th most visited museum in The Netherlands (the country has a plethora of museums and many world-renowned ones!). The interior is gigantic, with several levels that can engage children starting with toddlers going all the way up to teenagers. Udai and Aadyaa, who have become avid museum goers, tried most things out despite the crowd. It seemed like everyone had the same idea as us to shelter from the rain, plus it was a weekend. We were in there for hours, but I was the only one who got slightly bored out there. For Rahul and the kids, pressing buttons and making stuff, reading things and playing little games, taking on challenges and giggling, all of it was endlessly fascinating. It was a tough place for a photographer, the light being very strange, but I tried and here are some clicks that hopefully show how amazing the experience was.

Creating giant bubbles from soap film was a lot of fun!

Creating giant bubbles from soap film was a lot of fun!

Exploring the stability of built structures

Exploring the stability of built structures

Excited after using binary code to write Mum's name!

Excited after using binary code to write Mum’s name!

Many types of interactions. Papa was at his absolute best, explaining stuff and helping the kids out in every section of the museum

Many types of interactions. Papa was at his absolute best, explaining stuff and helping the kids out in every section of the museum

And Rahul's love for flight is clearly seen here as he helps Aadyaa maneouvre mirrors to reflect light onto PV panels that help fly a plane!

And Rahul’s love for flight is clearly seen here as he helps Aadyaa maneuver mirrors to reflect light onto PV panels that help fly a plane!

We left the museum only to realise the sun was out! As we walked away, I looked back to click one last picture of Renzo Piano’s creation. Here you can see the crowning glory of the structure, the large terraced roof that offers stunning views of Amsterdam and is, in itself, quite a sight!

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Udai’s Tenth: The best birthday ever!

We chose The Netherlands as our summer destination primarily to visit family. It had been a while since I saw my uncle, aunt and cousins who live there. Plus Rahul and the kids had never been to what Rahul teasingly refers to as uncle-land! As soon as we landed, we were enveloped in the warmth of family, but the highlight and the most amazing demonstration of family love was the way Udai’s tenth birthday was celebrated; in his own words, “the best birthday ever!” The large share of the credit, of course, goes to Liduine who the kids call Oma, Dutch for Grandma. But everyone chipped in. Follow the fantastic day in this photo essay of the “best birthday ever”!

Udai woke up to a decorated home. Oma had taken care to do this the previous night. I think we tend to forget he is a kid….he was so excited!

A little joy jig!

Oma is the best!

Post breakfast, we took a trip down to the market nearby to choose our own gifts as well as cake! Udai took ages to finally choose two Lego Technic boxes and a delicious apple cake

Doesn’t this pic say it all?

Next in line was a visit to the cousins, the ‘little people’! Olivier (5) and Berend (3) are delightful kids and Aadyaa had been asking to meet them for years. Her dream came true…

The kids spent an hour or two jumping and playing sand in the backyard plus general shouting, running and laughing around. Much pandemonium! And cake cutting too...Thomas (my cousin) and Coleta (his wife) have a beautiful house on a canal. Typically Dutch, with lots of place for the kids to play

The kids spent an hour or two jumping and playing sand in the backyard plus general shouting, running and laughing around. Much pandemonium! And cake cutting too…Thomas (my cousin) and Coleta (his wife) have a beautiful house on a canal. Typically Dutch, with lots of place for the kids to play

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Udai and Rahul are full of cake by this time!

Next destination: Zandvoort! It’s not very far from Haarlem, this beautiful Dutch beach. It’s a fixture on most of our visits to the Dutch family, but the 11th of June was a beautiful, windy but warm day to be at the beachside…

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The van you see in the background is driven by a tractor and sells delicious seafood preparations. We ate calamari (a favourite with the kids since the 2011 Barcelone trip!), a mixed seafood platter and the quintessential summer Dutch delicacy- new herring which is eaten raw or smoked and served with chopped onion!

Shells galore…

…and running away from the numerous jellyfish in the waters (here, some kids have made an artwork of the helpless jellyfish!) were the beach highlights!

Some horsing around too!

Oma had been chilling out at a beach restaurant nearby, sipping a cool drink, while we were at the beach. We joined her for a drink and then realised…

..that the rest of the family was driving down to Zandvoort as well! We were going to have a beachside birthday party!

A party in which you got gifts (check out his new watch!), ate some delicious food and…

…ran back to sea for a quick dip in the cold waters

Raising a toast for Udai here before heading back. It’s late and the deceptive European summer light invites us to linger, but the children are tired and we must go now…

Oma has another trick up her sleeve, however! A quick pit stop for Italian ice cream on our way home. She clicked this picture and sent it to us. It sort of says it all, doesn’t it?

What the kids loved (or hated) in Shimla

It’s a very simple list, seen from the eyes of 6-year old Aadyaa. Along with her friend Myrah who is a year younger, the children’s’ perspective on the vacation was an important one for us, for keeping them in good humor was the vital ingredient in our holiday! Here’s my attempt to reconstruct our day out in Shimla from their perspective!

#1 The mandatory horse ride

Yes, the mandatory horse ride must be ticked off the list in a place like Shimla. I did it in Mussourie when I was perhaps the same age and here is Aadyaa astride Badal, the horse who wore her “kathak ghungroos” around his neck!

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#2 Roadside eating

From pastries to the local phalsa fruit, the kids had fun demanding on-the-go food at regular intervals. Besides the energy shots, the food served as able distractions from the changing weather!

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#3 Picture posing

For some inane reason, the kids would yell “Aaloo parantha!” and “Pasta!” each time someone asked them to pose for a pic. It gave us all a hearty laugh each time and I loved the way they infected us grown-ups with their wonderful inanity. Check out their wide grins!

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#4 Battling the winds and the rain

I don’t think the children expected the cold winds and the rain. Aadyaa had a windcheater on to help her out, but she found the wind quite uncomfortable. Her legs were cold in the rain and she has to ask me to buy her new pajamas in the mall. Myrah too needed to buy a thicker jacket.

We spent quite a lot of time walking in the drizzle and then taking shelter wherever possible when the rain increased. One time it was the crowded porch of the post office, another time the porch of the church. Yet another time it was a long long wait under a sturdy old tree. They didn’t mind the latter too much as they had space to stretch and play and we passed the time singing rhymes and laughing!

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#5 The monkey menace!

The monkeys were everywhere. Despite several instructions about not looking at them, ignoring them, not being scared etc etc, it was hard for the children to not worry about the monkeys. I was scared that Aadyaa might try to be too friendly since she loves animals. In the crowded part of the city, we managed to avoid the monkeys, but on a lonely stretch they managed to terrorize little Myrah and snatch away a bag we were carrying. From then on, monkeys became Enemy no.1 on the trip!

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