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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Remembering Haarlem #1: Of music and dancing

One of the highlights of visiting my uncle and aunt in The Netherlands is the trip into the heart of Haarlem, the city where they live. Haarlem is a quaint town, the capital of the Noord Holland province and preserved beautifully in a manner typical of Dutch towns.

Haarlem has been in existence since Roman times and grew to become one of the most populated and influential cities in the Medieval times, a centre of trade inundated by Flemish merchants. Haarlem lost its prominent with Amsterdam’s rise during the Golden Age (17th-18th Century). Today, its essentially medieval layout and the visual richness of Gothic architecture is experienced strongly when you walk through it. We enjoyed getting lost in its streets, especially closer to the centre where many streets are quaint, narrow and exclusively pedestrian.

Late 18th century city map of Haarlem from Wikipedia

Late 18th century city map of Haarlem from Wikipedia

Wandering the quiet residential streets in Haarlem, where a surprise is right round the corner

Wandering the quiet residential streets in Haarlem, where a surprise is right round the corner

The explorers, taking it all in!

The explorers, taking it all in!

Our Haarlem expedition was just a couple of days before the FIFA mania began!

Our Haarlem expedition was just a couple of days before the FIFA mania began!

Architecture along the mainstreet

Architecture along the mainstreet

This is the sort of image that stays in your mind long after you leave Holland- cycles, people enjoying the outdoors, heritage and very well-designed road infrastructure!

This is the sort of image that stays in your mind long after you leave Holland- cycles, people enjoying the outdoors, heritage and very well-designed road infrastructure!

As you must do in a town like this, we gravitated slowly towards the Town Square or the Grote Markt. We knew we were close to this epicentre of Haarlem as soon as we began to hear the distinct music of the street organs and spot them, positioned on a corner or in the middle of a courtyard, people smiling at them as they walked by while some stood to appreciate their intricate facades. The Dutch street organ is a quaint sight, usually family owned and intricately decorated. They used to be all manually operated by an organ grinder but tend to be automated nowadays. I’ve seen them here and there in the cities of Holland before, but never a profusion of street organs like we saw on the Monday we decided to walk through Haarlem. It happened to be a long weekend thanks to the Christian festival of Pentecost or Pinkster. Through the morning, we watched residents and tourists descend into the centre of the city, and the organs seemed to swell in number too! The pictures below are each of/from a different street organ and all from the streets of Haarlem.

Particularly attractove for children

Particularly attractive for children

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Details are very interesting

Very much a part of the scenery

Very much a part of the scenery

 The sounds of the street organ changes the entire experience of walking down a narrow shopping street

The sounds of the street organ changes the entire experience of walking down a narrow shopping street

Udai spotted the back of one of the organs and thoush we can;t make sense of it, here's the documentation!

Udai spotted the back of one of the organs and though we can’t make sense of it, here’s the documentation!

Taking advantage of the shade under a tree to attract people on a hot hot day!

Taking advantage of the shade under a tree to attract people on a hot hot day!

Haarlem’s Grote Markt is a delight. The beautiful open space is dominated by the towering St. Bavo Cathedral, which you can see for miles around the city, and the beautiful Town Hall or Stadhuis at the other end. When we first reached, we thought the Cathedral was shut because of Pentecost (it wasn’t though and the St. Bavo experience is the stuff of another post!) and so, we sought to enjoy the activity in the square. And I’m so glad we did!

St. Bavo towers over the Grote Markt

St. Bavo towers over the Grote Markt

Lounging around. I loved watching the crowd at the square

Lounging around. I loved watching the crowd at the square

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Plenty of space to eat, drink, dance and hang out!

Plenty of space to eat, drink, dance and hang out! The Stadhuis is in the background

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The most fun thing we did was dance in the Silent Disco. You put on headphones and dance away. Those who watch could think you are crazy and will most certainly have a laugh. The kids and me went in, and then the kids did a second round once more, so kicked were they with the concept and experience! Udai kept wanting to bring the concept back to India (no noise pollution, wow!), only to be told they already have it on the beaches in Goa!

_DSC6315_DSC6317_DSC6316_DSC6325A band was performing in the middle of the Grote Markt, belting out mostly Latino music. As we sat there, sipping our drinks and trying out Poffertjes (A Dutch pancake with toppings, the most popular in summer being strawberries and cream!), a crowd began to gather. And dance! In a jiffy, Aadyaa had dragged me in and there we were, jumping about, surrounded by beautifully dressed couples doing the salsa and the meringue. Udai took the opportunity to polish off some new herring at another food stall.

An animated band

An animated band

With very enthusiastic dancers

With very enthusiastic dancers

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The best thing about events like this at truly public spaces is how genders, age groups and classes mix. Look at the children running freely in between the dancing couples!

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And whats better than dancing with papa?

And what’s better than dancing with papa?

Then came a church visit, a much-needed ice cream and a giant serving of the Dutch frites topped with mayonnaise and a long, long walk back along the canal and the forest till we reached home. A day well spent, steeped in music and dance, sunshine and conversation!

And before I wind up this long long post, here are my two ‘crowd’ clicks that I really like!

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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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From dread to delight in Shimla, the Queen of the Hills

It was a rude shock getting back the heat of the plains after a weekend in Shimla and Mashobra. It rained quite a bit while we were there and though it cramped our sightseeing attempts a little, we weren’t complaining about the cold at all! A couple of us had to acquire more clothing, a jacket here, a pair of pajamas there, a small matter in the joy of being in the Queen of the Hills, Shimla.

I’d only been to the famed hill station as a very small child and had no memories of it at all. It seemed strange to me to have lived for so many years in the environs of Delhi and never having been to the most popular holiday destination of my fellow citywallas! So I grabbed the chance.

What struck me most getting into Shimla is the sheer density of the city and how precariously positioned it is on the massive mountains. As my friend Henri said in his comment on my Instagram pics from Shimla, it is a “disaster waiting to happen”! Certainly, it is a city run wild, with its older cramped parts intermingled with the recent multistorey additions, hotels and government offices all crowding together helter skelter.

The sheer density of Shimla hits you as you drive in

The sheer density of Shimla hits you as you drive in

Much of the building stock is old and diaplidated

Much of the building stock is old and diaplidated

The city rests helter skelter in the midst of the most stunning hillside scenery

The city rests helter skelter in the midst of the most stunning hillside scenery

We stayed at the Club Mahindra property in Mashobra, which is a quiet village ahead of Shimla. When in town, we parked and took the elevator up to the Mall, which is the only sensible thing to do! Because is it entirely predestrianized, the Mall in Shimla (despite the summer crowds) has a certain old world charm. I enjoyed the old colonial buildings and the ‘sense of place’ in the city. The weather, which turned from rainy and windy to sunny and bright in the few hours we were there, showed us the city in many different lights. I don’t want to crowd this post with too much info and I’d rather highlight some of our experiences separately. But here are a few glimpses!

It's hard to reconcile the incongruity of the crowded city gainst the magnificant backdrop of the majestic Himalayas beyond

It’s hard to reconcile the incongruity of the crowded city against the magnificent backdrop of the majestic Himalayas beyond

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Christ Church

 

The Town Hall and the Mall

The Town Hall and the Mall

The most darling little buildings in the Mall

The most darling little buildings in the Mall

My little dancer, full of warmth and pleasant surprises

Aadyaa has been learning kathak for a year now. It’s been a fun ride, but not easy by a long shot, for her and her friends. Learning a classical art form takes discipline and rigour, both don’t come easy for little children. In the initial months, novelty carried her through. But as her guru (well-known kathak exponent Sushmita Ghosh who is also the current Director of Kathak Kendra in New Delhi) pushed them more, I saw Aadyaa’s enthusiasm wane a few times. A few weekends she came back saying: Guruji daant-thi hain- she scolds us! As a mother and a kathak dancer myself, I had to make the right sympathetic noises while also conveying that the discipline is part of the game.

Slowly and painstakingly, the rights and lefts fell in place, her habitual attention seeking faded away and was replaced by a deep sense of enjoyment in her dance, an appreciation of nuances and the development of focus. She started at the age of five, now she is six. And I amazed by the progress all of her friends in the kathak class have made.

The icing on the cake, though, was their stage performance last week. Sushmita guruji began to prepare them for the show way back in December, teaching them the basic piece first and embellishing it as time went on. The choreography was reasonably complex for beginners, but the little ones handled it beautifully. They had had plenty of practice and repetition, so they were all comfortable on stage and not nervous at all.

They shone resplendent in their beautifully designed off white and gold angrakha kurtas with coloured churidaars. They has identical jewelry made and similar make-up as well. All of the dressing up created a flurry of excitement among the girls. For Aadyaa and many others, it was the first time they were trying make up! She sat with a pout from the time the lipstick went on till they got off stage, some for hours!

But far more than how they looked and how well they danced, what impressed me was the confidence and sense of enjoyment that was evident in these little dancers. They are fortunate indeed to be blessed with a guru who loves them and is dedicated to her art. Little experiences like dancing to live music and sitting patiently through the pieces that other dancers performed added to their training. The entire show had an intimate and relaxed feel to it, which I think was a deliberate attempt to draw the audience (parents and well wishers of the students mostly) into the enticing world of Indian classical arts. All in all, a memorable experience for all of us and moment to take genuine pride in our children!

Check out Aadyaa’s dance video below. Credits: Rachna Khanna

And enjoy the pics below! Credits: Nupur Chaturvedi

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A sporty weekend [1]: Sports Day at Shikshantar

Just as I was getting a little cribby about Udai’s new penchant for hanging out gossiping with his friends rather than playing in the park, we spent a weekend full of outdoors fun! Winter in Delhi is perfect for sporty activities and we took full advantage of superb weather and great friends.

Saturday morning was spent attending Aadyaa’s sports day, quite a spectacle a Shikshantar where kids demonstrate complex obstacles, relays and patterns using props like balls and hoopla rings. The focus is complete immersion in the task at hand, with no regard to the idea of ‘winning a race’, quite unique to this school and absolutely age appropriate for pre-schoolers I think. I have to point out that the idea of sports for pre-schoolers is as much about the development of physical strength and skills as it is about honing social skills like sharing, encouraging peers and pushing yourself to do better. As parents, we all feel good that these little ones are protected at this point from the disappointments of losing and do whatever they can with great confidence. There will be a time and place for comparisons, but for now the happiness and enthusiasm is catching!

Here are a few snapshots from that energized morning, though I must confess I was sunburnt into a stupor afterwards!

Sports is internalized into every aspect of what the kids do at this time of the year!

Sports is internalized into every aspect of what the kids do at this time of the year!

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Good to see them focus on a task and chellenge themselves to do better. Notice the highly informal setup with parents and grandparents, siblings and even house help (who are so integral to the family from a child’s perspective) standing or sitting around the activity area

Teamwork was introduced this year. A significant step forward for the little ones!

Teamwork was introduced this year. A significant step forward for the little ones!

Cheering for her friends!

Cheering for her friends!

Big brother Udai watches. Later, parents and siblings also have similar activities. Wish I had pics of how much he enjoyed those, on the same team as mommy. Of course, our (more grown up) bunch was competitive as hell, yelling and behaving like the brats that I am sure we all were (or still are!)

Big brother Udai watches. Later, parents and siblings also have similar activities. Wish I had pics of how much he enjoyed those, on the same team as mommy. Of course, our (more grown up) bunch was competitive as hell, yelling and behaving like the brats that I am sure we all were (or still are!)

Are there smart ideas for cities and errr, slums? #informality #Delhi

This is the week when the semester-long research efforts of my final year students at SPA culminate in a presentation they make to the world-at-large, which usually means their fellow students, faculty and guest invitees. It’ a big deal and they all put up a good show. Dress codes, fancy invites and posters, bouquets, formal welcome speeches and funky presentations, all thrown in for good measure. It’s great fun to see them there, all confident and gung ho, after all the struggling and fighting, the crazy discussions and the times when you shrug your shoulders and sort of give up as their advisor, at least once through the semester! My group, which speaks on Smart Slums under the ambit of the Smarter Cities seminar for their batch, is on tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it. Take a look at their FB event page to see some cool graphics and pre-event buzz.

smartercitiessmat slums-2smart slums-1On the content side, we’ve spent all semester arguing and debating the place of informal areas like slums in a big city like Delhi, which aspires to be world-class and ends up being exclusive in the worst possible way. In that context, I have looked at play areas for children in the informal city in an article published today in The Alternative. Children, youth, the elderly and many other groups who need special attention get bypassed not only by formal planning processes, but even by community-centric approaches. Keeping this in mind, tactical interventions that are agile and responsive can provide answers to problems that appear insurmountable.

What sort of safe, clean play spaces can we create for children in the informal city?

What sort of safe, clean play spaces can we create for children in the informal city?

More such tactical and even technological approaches are going to be presented all week at the School of Planning and Architecture by students who are exploring the Smarter City from varied angles. Looking forward to seeing some of these presentations and if yesterday’s glimpses were anything to go by, they will be both informative and though-provoking!

The sea, the sea! Crazy excitement of the Gurgaon-walas at Miramar, Goa

If you live by the water, you have no idea how those of us who live in landlocked places long for the open sea. No matter what age we are, no matter what state of mind, just take us to a beach or jetty and watch us go wild!

One morning in Goa, this past week, we were out to fill fuel in the car and decided to visit Miramar, which is a beautiful stretch of beach next to Panjim, Goa’s capital city. Within minutes, the children had walked out into the waves, sat in them, jumped in them, rolled in them, and well, thoroughly soaked themselves into the experience of being on the beach. I walked around in my shoes (why was I wearing them exactly?) collecting shells, which Aadyaa really wanted but didn’t have the patience to collect, preferring to frolic in the water instead. Udai wore a silly grin while Rahul had a beatific smile stuck on his face. I took pictures of my beautiful family as we all thoroughly enjoyed some peaceful time on a nearly deserted beach!

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Father’s Day creations from my enthusiastic children

There is nothing more than an early morning creative outburst. To create this surprise for Rahul papa, behind his back while he was at the gym, we slit apart old used A4 size envelopes, glued them together to create this long strip and then the kids just unleashed their creative juices on them. Dadi (their grandmum) offered them discarded kajal (kohl sticks), lipsticks etc and we used acrylic paints, crayons, toothbrushes, etc.

Aadyaa chose to recreate the mountains we recently holidayed in, while Udai drew a fleet of spacecrafts! Mummy and mausi chipped in here and there. We cut out the words from old discarded brochures. The entire process took us a couple of hours.

When Rahul walked in sometime later, the kids were shouting out ‘Happy Fathers Day’ atop their voices. The house rang with yells and laughter, smiles aplenty and lots of cheer. We breakfasted on a dish of yesterday’s chapati reinvented with garlic, onion and tomato seasoning and another experimental smoothie made with curd, milk, watermelon, beet root, red bell pepper,carrot, apricot and cucumber. A morning of creative reuse and family fun, with good old Furby joining in! Feeling really satisfied!
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