Author Archives: ramblinginthecity
In a hyper-aware super connected world where paranoia is becoming the main strategy by which we live our lives, parenting has become a complex job with immense responsibility. As parents, we are constantly aware of the grave consequences of wrong decisions. We obsess over every choice we make with regards to our kids, from choosing a school to monitoring the company they keep, from the toys we buy to the places we take our kids to.
As a mother of two reasonably intelligent and talented kids, I am constantly stuck between two distinct models of parenting. The very structured and demanding ‘Tiger’ mode that Amy Chua eloquently bats for in her book[Ref: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (2011)] and a more relaxed instinctive style that allows children to experiment and set their own pace. I’ve tried both and I’ll say this: Tiger mode is seductive for parents who are ambitious for their children and need to feel in control but relaxed mode is more fun, more gratifying, more humane. I’ll also tell you why I’ve come to this conclusion.
Children are individuals, parents do not ‘own’ them
Someone recently asked me this: “Aap apne bacche ko kya banaana chahte ho?”- What will you make your child? It’s a common enough question in Indian society. “Why would I make him anything?”, was my incredulous retort. Mine wasn’t a naive statement. Questions like these imply that parents own their children or at least own rights over their future, and I do not buy that.
Children, right from the moment they are born, are individuals. They have ideas, a sense of themselves and their place in the world. These ideas are shaped in the early years by their parents and guardians, teachers, friends, caregivers, by what they see and hear. In this, a parent plays a defining role. But to extend that role to decisions about their careers, or who their partner should be, or where they should live and what they should wear is a gross mistake and a fallout of an erroneous patriarchal construct that we need to urgently challenge. For several reasons, and I will not go into those here and now, but simply because freedom is a right. No parent wants their child to live in chains. To examine our own relationship with our children and see the chains we feter them with for what they are is an important step of good parenting. A step we should not take with a sense of insecurity and trepidation, but with a sense of empowerment, knowing this is the right thing to do.
Freedom nurtures creativity, creative people drive change
By conditioning children to over-instruction and putting in place a system of rewards and brickbats, we teach them that seeking our approval is the chief objective of their lives. As adults, they continue to work towards the approval of someone or the other. A spouse, a boss, a friend.
Pushing kids through rigid structures and pressurizing them to over achieve may drive excellence and cause success in the short-term, but it severely compromises originality, believes Wharton Prof Adam Grant. “Limiting rules,” he writes, “encourages children to think for themselves.”
No one can be in doubt that we need original thinking to take us forward. We need new ideas to tackle a host of problems, from malnutrition to climate change. We need innovative technology to drive economic growth and create prosperity. We need creative people to compose music, write plays and books, make films that entertain as well as enrich us immeasurably.
Easy to say, hard to implement: ‘Letting go’ is a mindset change
Even if you buy my arguments for less structure and more freedom, how do you act upon it in an increasingly competitive world that drives you to measure success instantly (and share it on your social media feed even faster!)? For a parent, taking a step back is incredibly hard. Taking the long view seems like a risk. What if it backfires? What if my child does not get through the best colleges? What if her musical talent goes wasted? We worry about the possibility of a perceived failure in the future because we are comparing our children constantly to their peers and to the best in the world.
My main rejoinder to myself when I find myself worried is that less structure does not mean apathy. It must be accompanied by an emphasis on quality interactions between parents and children and a concerted effort to create opportunities to expose our children to multiple stimuli, experiences and information sources. So the formula changes from choosing a select set of structured activities and ensuring they are done, repeatedly, till excellence is achieved to something else. Choosing fewer of these structured routines to free up time for a wider variety of less structured ones.
To make this shift happen is requiring me to change the way I think about life, about choices, about expectations. It is pushing me to place more value on the here and now and worry less about a future that I, in any case, cannot determine. Increased conversations are creating opportunities for debates within the home, often about complex and ethically difficult issues. About sex and gender, about the drug regime and politics, about the failings of the modern parent even!
I hope this journey will make questioners of my children (and push me to question too, as I learn everyday from these two and the students I interact with on a weekly basis). Those of you who know how disturbed I’ve been over what has transpired in university campuses across India these past few months may now understand why the muffling of dissenting voices is deeply disturbing for me. While I persevere in a difficult personal journey towards hands-off parenting, I fail to understand how a political agenda that envisages a nation of minions instead of one with creative thinkers will serve a nation that professes an ambition to inclusive economic growth.
Visiting a heritage site always gives me a high. I’ve had people roll their eyes at me about my particular enthusiasm for ruins and tombs, palaces and serais, but there is a magic in the texture and aura of brick and stone that has stood there so long and seen so much change. The Humayun’s Tomb complex, so lovingly restored by the Aga Khan Foundation, is a real treat to visit. Perhaps ‘the’ showcase heritage treasure for Delhi at this time, as the city struggles year after year to get onto UNESCO’s Heritage City list (this year I hear it’s losing out to Amdavad). It’s a pity, but I do find that a number of Delhi’s important heritage sites are not well maintained, with no information to help visitors contextualize what they are experiencing and with very little connection to the city at large.
On the Saturday morning we rambled through the Humayun’s Tomb complex, we saw long lines of chattering school children, photography enthusiasts, tourists and families, all excited and many in awe. I learn something new each visit at the small exhibition set up at the entrance to the Tomb. This time, it helped me explain a bit of the history, architecture and cultural context of the monument to our visitors from the Netherlands.
Humayun’s tomb never fails to impress; its scale and proportions, its craftsmanship so perfect. But beyond its historical value and perhaps because of it, what Udai and me (we’ve both visited several times before) most enjoyed this time around were the beautifully landscaped spaces that surround the smaller monuments in the complex. Spaces that allow you to sit and contemplate life, spaces that involve a little climbing up and down and offer a sense of adventure. As I pen this post, it does occur to me that this is a metaphor for how in life side dishes are often far more pleasurable than the mains and what we consider the ‘extra’ often adds the best flavours!
Some snapshots from my iphone6.
There’s a lot on my plate and yet, instead of weeding my part-time teaching work out of my already nonsensically crazy schedule, I sign up for these commitments semester after semester. Up until now, I’ve been advising students of architecture on two specific research components of the Bachelors in Architecture curriculum- the dissertation and the research seminar. This year, for the first time, the School of Planning and Architecture has introduced a research component to the final year design project, known as the thesis. This is new territory for all of us and it’s going to be challenging and hopefully interesting. Those were my thoughts this afternoon as I drove into college.
Thinking through the research requirements for my group of eight final year students is a time consuming task. I listen patiently (that doesn’t come easily to me), understand each student’s motivational landscape and then offer targeted advise. Some students are very high on motivation, others are blessed with clarity and the ability to structure; still others are completely under-confident and lost. While guidance needs to be offered to each individual, I find students face similar problems regardless of their abilities and some common guiding principles are very valuable. So is the opportunity to cross-learn from each others’ struggles.
Three basic tenets have served me well in my short sojourn as a teacher. One, treat students as responsible adults. Assume that they know what they are doing. Remind them that their action and inaction has consequences that they must be responsible for. Of course, this does not mean that they always take responsibility or produce work of quality. No, that varies. But it does mean they are more responsive to what you are trying to say.
Two, show genuine interest in their motivations, however banal. I find judgmental attitudes towards students only puts barriers between the teacher and the taught and impedes progress. Sometimes the starting point is not an indication of how far the kid can go.
Three, approach teaching with a sense of humour. Making light of embarrassing mistakes and using funny examples to illustrate situations go a long way in breaking the formality of the teacher-student relationship.
An additional, and perhaps defensive strategy, is to keep expectations low and build them as you get to know students better. I teach students at the end of their time at SPA. By this time, its hard to change their self-perceptions or push them to break out of habits already formed. One can try, of course and instead of worrying about falling standards and changed levels of commitment, I consciously choose to appreciate how increased exposure can create inter-disciplinary linkages in how students now look at issues. If even a handful emerge the ability to tackle problem solving smartly and sensitively, it’ll be gratification enough!
Making the most out of quick work trips is an art. I’d like to say I’m rather good at it. In the first week of January, I made an overnight visit to Mumbai for a meeting. I was fortunate, since the meeting was in Cuffe Parade, to be out up at the quaint old-world Sea Green Hotel right on Marine Drive.
Bombay, especially the central and southern parts of the city, is a big part of my growing up years and always has the effect of sending into a wave of strong and happy nostalgia. Marine Drive and Worli Seaface are those iconic places in the city that are on every Bombaywalla’s list of favourites. Mine too.
The Queen’s Necklace is regal and sweeping, its panoramic view and feel having the effect of slowing down your heart rate and making you open your eyes wider as you feel your face ease into a broad smile. And so I found myself waking up in eager anticipation early enough to get in a morning stroll along Marine Drive before I needed to leave for work.
From eager fitness enthusiasts, to cavorting canines. From excited shattering tourists to practiced office goers who looked like they had just stepped off the train and were catching their moments of calm before plunging into the madness of the day. And lovers, everywhere. Young couples lost in themselves, their backs to the world, their gazes out at sea. Exchanging gifts and silences. Sharing conversations.
A city of love, a city of excitement and noise and energy, and of poignant silences too. Bombay, it’s impossible not to love you.
Why do we blog? Because we have something to say, perhaps. Or a lot to say. Or something we think only we can say. Or because we want to find words to express what we think and observe.
Why do I blog? My blog has been as much a journey into myself as a documentation of what I see and do. It’s been an exercise in self-discipline or a mechanism to unravel and see patterns in the complex and intertwined conversations I have with myself.
I’ve also used my blog to set goals for myself and monitor them. Fitness, self-discipline, my journey in dance, travel targets and even career goals have found mention on this blog. New year resolutions too (2012-1, 2012-2, 2013) have been made and then assessed here. The blogosphere has been my confidante, my sounding board and my shoulder to cry on board, but it has also been my gauge!
Despite my blog’s pre-eminent place in my life, I haven’t written a lot on it this past year. A little over a year ago, I realized my posts were crossing several distinct themes. So I re-arranged my blog thematically, hoping to make it easier not just for visitors, but for me, to understand my own blogging behaviour. It’s been interesting to see that posts with a personal take are most visited, followed by those linked with my work in urban planning and policy.
Today, I’m at a crossroads and wondering where to take ramblinginthecity. Should it continue to be a personal exploration or take on a more knowledge-based position? Should I open it out to more voices or hone my own voice to be more powerful and much sharper? Should more academic content be on it at all, or find a new space elsewhere? Lots of questions!
As the first month of the year draws to an end, I can see 2016 is going to be the busiest and most exciting year I’ve ever had work-wise. I do hope I’ll be able to take my blog along with me on my new adventures. I fear it will be hard. I fear it will drop off on the wayside. But if it’s really come to occupy that space of the voice-in-my-head, I’m confident it will find new and interesting connections with my life! To another year of blogging……..
I’d only been once to Kolkata before, a long time ago. And I’d been dying to go. Our team at work had been engaged in a field study on auto rickshaws in Kolkata and a consultative workshop in December was the perfect occasion for us all to go in an engage with the project a bit more.
My colleague Manish, who is never satisfied with the usual run-of-the-mill stuff, bullied us all into booking what he called “a quaint heritage property on Sudder Street”. It’s only when we got there that we realized this was the famous Fairlawn Hotel. With its interiors painted a bizarre green, its walls cluttered with newspaper clips, photographs and paintings, and its rooms full of eclectic curios, Fairlawn is a sensory explosion indeed!
We spent quite a few amused and excited moments recognising famous faces, including Patick Swayze and Shashi and Jennifer Kapoor (who apparently spent their honeymoon here!), several photographs of British Royals (I’m not they ever visited though!) and some very detailed water colours of Fairlawn that I particularly liked. Fairlawn’s infamous owner Violet (Vi) Smith, who was well known as a talented racconteur and host, passed away at the ripe old age of 93 only in 2014! One could see, standing there in those rooms full of atmosphere, that Fairlawn had seen some really interesting times! The building, I gather from news reports online, is over 200 years and was inherited by Vi from her Armenian mother. Through its history, it has been a home, a barracks and mess for Canadian airmen during the World War II and finally, a hotel that was a must-visit for foreign visitors in Kolkata for years. Vi’s daughter Jennifer runs it now.
Amid our busy work schedules, we managed to sneak in some crazy pictures of ourselves in Fairlawn as well as some moments of leisure chatting while standing in its historic corridors.
So much when you cook and before you can say ‘Jack Robinson’, it’s on the kid’s blog
Our breakfast this morning was an innovation by our mother and it evolved from the constant demands from me and my sister.
Pancake Tacos: Serves 8
- 2 cups whole-wheat flour
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 2 eggs
- Milk (as required)
- Any cheese
- Butter/Olive oil
- Put everything except butter/olive oil, milk, apples and cheese in a bowl. Stir and add milk until the batter flows back into the bowl when you tilt a ladleful. Leave the batter to rise for an hour.
- Peel and chop apples finely then set aside
- Heat pan and spread butter/olive oil on it.
- Put a heaped ladleful of the batter on the pan move the pan until batter is equal everywhere.
- Put a lid on the pan until one side is cooked.
- Then flip it and on one half put the cheese and the apples. Then carefully put…
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Homelessness is a concern in cities across the world, both in the more developed Global North and in the Global South, where poverty and inequality are of urgent concern. Yet, from my broad readings on the subject, the connection between homelessness and housing appears to be tenuous in the eyes of policymakers. And increasingly, in the modus operandi of NGOs as well.
Let me explain. While it appears rational that the response to the problem of homelessness must be an attempt to increase access and supply to affordable housing, responses to homelessness are nearly entirely focused on addressing its manifestations. Soup kitchens, temporary shelters, education and healthcare interventions, usually spearheaded by NGOs, are some examples.
The gap in housing policy has been bothering me for a while, but I was emboldened to write about it today after reading my friend Carlin’s piece that frames these concerns rather directly. She posits that India’s ability to provide shelter to the homeless will hugely contribute to the success of the much-feted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Her piece focuses on Court-directed pressure on Indian State governments to build homeless shelters. However, my sense as a housing expert is that there needs to be some thinking around other housing options for the urban poor. Unless there are housing mobility choices available for city dwellers, income notwithstanding, a discuss focused on the building and management of night shelters seems to be a piecemeal and unsustainable solution.
There are gaping holes in what we know about how the poor, homeless included, make housing choices. We know even less about what would their ideal choices be. Because of these gaps, good intentions often translate into poor policy.
Governments find it easy to promote supply-side interventions like homeless shelters or even rental housing, something that has appeared more aggressively on the agenda of late. The Government of India’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation recently brought out a Draft Urban Rental Housing Policy, which recognizes the homeless as a “vulnerable” group to which social rental housing supply should be directed. In Odisha, the State government is exploring the construction of rented accommodation for informal sector workers, particularly in construction.
More needs to be known about the demand side of the housing market. The choices and preferences of the urban poor must form as much a part of the housing strategies of Indian cities as those of middle- and high-income home renters and buyers (research on the latter is thin as well!). This is one of the essential first steps towards achieving a functional urban housing market.
So today the 5th of January, I got to work in my odd numbered car, and it took me 10-15′ or so less than usual. I have the privilege of working part time and flexi-time. So the ‘odd-even’ formula has not had me scrambling for solutions to commuting problems.
For those unfamiliar with the term that has become part of the our lexicon of late – Delhi recently achieved the distinction of the ‘most polluted city in the world’ and the State Government took a decision to implement a policy of ‘on the roads, only cars with odd no. plates on odd days and even on even days’ for the period of 1st to 15th January. They did this around 10th of December and in the 20 days to the New Year, build up was interesting (hmmm!!) and showed up the petty side of many players. While the print media…
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