A Grape Adventure – Grapes are not sour

Sometime back, my wife had come across a photograph in The Hindu of grapes being harvested at the Grape Research Centre, Rajendranagar. We figured out that they had opened their gates for the general public for harvesting. Too good an opportunity to let it go. So all excited, we headed to the centre to try our luck at getting some sweet yummy grapes fresh from the farm.

On reaching, a big hoarding with the pictures of different varieties of grapes grown at the farm welcomed us. The girls were intrigued by the varied hues of the grapes – green, black, red, purple, dark blue. Our energies were upped with the enticing prospects.

We made our way to a small stall set up at the centre to facilitate the process.  In response to all our enthusiastic queries, the person at the counter looked at us sympathetically and shared that the harvesting had begun more than a month ago. So, despite a bumper produce of 10,000 kgs, we may not be able to get even a kg of grapes from whatever was left at the vineyard.

The adults in us who need volumes for gratification were disheartened. Not the girls who were ready for action and fun. So there we were armed with two baskets, one for each of the girls to put their harvests and a knife. As we were about to enter the vineyard, the security personnel in charge of the place suggested that we begin our exploration from the far end columns of vines, just in case.

The entire vineyard had overhead bird netting in place – to prevent the birds from feasting on the produce. The net had to be lifted to enter the vinery and this act made the girls feel as if we were entering a special secret zone. As we walked through the grape climbers, the green leaves of the vines were pleasing to the eye. The girls were happy because they were able to touch and feel the plants, all by themselves. After running around a few columns, the girls finally chanced upon bunches of hanging grapes. Big, small, tiny, firm, soft, mushy, dried, green, black, purple, maroon – they described every fruit they picked. We helped them to figure out the difference between the raw and ripe ones and the care that they need to take whilst picking the ripe fruits.

Just as they were going about harvesting, the drip irrigation system was switched on to water the plants. There were pipes running along the grape climbers with holes for water to trickle drop by drop directly onto the plant’s roots. Seemed to be everything that we could ask for – each of the picked fruits started to get washed and gobbled. And that is when they realised that grapes also have seeds. I mean until then, all the market bought ones that they had been introduced to were all of the seedless variety. B +ve asked if they should eat the seeds like those of the watermelon or spit them out like those of the custard apples. I asked her to give it a try and she started crunching and munching.

O +ve had not been fond of fruits, grapes in particular until then. But she couldn’t resist the taste of her sweet labour. Unfortunately, all that she tasted was sour and had seeds much to her chagrin. Good enough for her to conclude that grapes are not worthy of her appetite. B +ve with her fondness for sour had her tummy full. The icing on the cake for her was when whilst reading out the names of the grapes, she figured out a variety of grapes which actually shared her name. O +ve searched in vain but couldn’t find her name etched on the sign poles.

In all our exploration, we managed to find only one variety of grapes that was sweet. The rest were sour to the core. But nothing deterred us. I mean the girls and they went on and on religiously walking through every column at the vineyard.

After a good two hours, we came out of the netted zone. A tractor in a corner caught the girls’ attention. They spent next 15-20 minutes in driving the stationary tractor. Finally, all our efforts were weighed at 300 grams and priced at Rs. 30/-.

Farm visits which tend to focus on picking and plucking give a great high. After all, who would not miss out on a chance of harvesting and savouring farm fresh produce? But such visits also tend to inadvertently not focus on the intensive and interesting facets and processes at the farm. It is often noted that kids, more so adults are on an accumulation spree/ on a race to fill baskets and sacks during harvest festivals. We are forever in a race and leave no chance of getting our kids inducted into it at the earliest, isn’t it?

Had there been more grapes, would we have missed out on getting acquainted with… The twists and bends of the grape vines? The smell of moistened earth? The number of nozzles between two sign poles? The textures and colours of the heart-shaped leaves? Intricately created spider webs?

We set out on our grape adventure in search of sweet grapes. At the end of it, all I can say is our grapes were not sour.

Colour Me Purple – A Day with Berries of Basella

In our apartment’s car parking lot, there are a few potted plants along the sideways. O +ve and B +ve like to pick up twigs, fallen leaves and poke around the wet soil. Just as we were all walking, we chanced upon the berries of the Red Malabar Spinach vine. Oh, My! In a jiffy, they brought back colourful memories of my childhood.

My wife and I went ahead and plucked some of them. We gave the girls one each and asked them to squeeze the berries. They were a bit apprehensive not knowing what is to come out but as the lovely purple colour oozed out, the girls squealed with delight. B +ve immediately remarked that she liked this colour and asked if she could colour her palm, fingers and nails. Even before I answered in the affirmative, O +ve also got hooked on the idea and they both got busy in painting their – whatever they can with the purple colour of the Red Malabar Spinach fruits. I asked them not to throw away the seeds after rubbing the colour.

The girls wanted to do more – so they started off on my hands. Whilst they were at it, my wife told them about the Red Malabar Spinach vine and showed them its heart-shaped semi-succulent leaves with red veins, petioles and stems. She also shared memories of a time when her mother used to grow them in their backyard and whenever they were in the mood for it, she would dash off to bring some freshly harvested leaves for a yummy daal.

My nails, fingers and palm were all well done.

And then O +ve asked if they could use the colour for playing Holi. I said yes and they went gung-ho smearing each other’s faces with the berry’s juice. After they exhausted their handfuls, I asked them to pick some berries and leaves for home and also collected all the seeds that the girls had left behind. That’s when B +ve shared that she would use some to colour water in her squeeze bottle to play Holi with her grandparents.

Their afternoon nap was followed by a Holi session with their grandparents. And then I asked them if they were willing to plant the Basella Rubra seeds in their pots in our flat’s balcony. My daughters were all for it – so after digging out the hardened soil in unused pots, they sowed the seeds, filled up the pots with red soil and watered them. And the minute they finished the task, they started asking, so when will the berries come? So much for my taking them through the entire growth cycle of a plant:)

There were some more berries left in their basket along with the leaves. When their mother asked them if she could use the leaves to make daal in the way their grandmother made, they readily agreed. And whilst their mom was busy in the kitchen, we were trying out ways to put to use the remaining berries.

I made some quick outlines with their names on cards and asked them to follow suit. O +ve and B +ve were very happy to see the output. They really enjoyed writing their names with the berries. We then tried splat painting with the berries on both paper and fabric. And it was just awesome fun.

The day ended with a meal of hot piping rice, ghee, yummy malabar spinach dal and smudges of purple colour all around. Who would have thought that we could spend an entire day with a berry fruit? Girls are not going to forget the colour purple any time soon or the berry or what all can be done with it.

A day well spent with Berries of Basella – Colour me Purple.

10 things my daughters are growing up with

After the things that O +ve and B +ve are growing up without, now it is time for what they are growing up with. Again, some planned, some unplanned, some voluntary, some involuntary, basis the situation. Never sure, what is good parenting, what is not. Let’s see.

Father at home: O +ve and B +ve see me at home 24 hours, in my shorts and t-shirt with uncombed hair and unshaven face. They see me doing household chores, getting involved in all the action along with them, always consulting their mother before taking the final decision. Yes, they do want their mother around all the time, but they have never suggested that I should start going to the office again – I take solace in this and suppose that I am hanging in pretty ok.  Wondering what impression they are going to have about Men as they grow up.

Free time: With no playschool, no daycare centre, ever so imaginative mother away for work; daughters have only their clueless father as a company for the major part of the day. I have no idea about the concept of no schooling leave aside homeschooling; I suppose that is what I end up doing unintentionally.  Girls have loads of free time during the day with no structured activities, but 2 tasks – be a child and have fun.

Weekly Outing: With no parks, no accessible green spaces in the near vicinity that we can walk to, I take them out a couple of times every week ; to parks, gardens, grocery stores,  by lanes in our neighbourhood, metro station, villages in which their mother works and of course, to their grand parents’ house where they get to immerse in their granny’s  roof-top kitchen garden – watering the plants, digging soil, checking out insects and birds, collecting dry leaves and plucking tomatoes  to their heart’s content.

Maggi: No Lays, no soft drinks but, we love our Maggi. The 2-minute convenience when the mother is down and out (you guessed it right – I am a stay-at-home father, but I don’t cook; yet to get over all the so-called man-hood qualities), Maggi has been the only saviour. I get over my guilt with the thought that it might have Lead, but if it has gone around for so long, once a fortnight will not hurt much. Sorry Girls, your father just refuses to learn cooking.

Sharing and Ownership: They shared their living space before they came into this world, and it continues and will continue. They have their dedicated sets of tooth-brushes, shoes, water bottles; the rest of the stuff is all shared. They eat food from the same plate, wear clothes interchangeably and when one falls ill, the second shares the medicine also (she will anyways require it in next 48 hours). Being a single child, I haven’t had to share most of the times. And even now, I don’t always get it right on that front. But I am glad my daughters have to experience the sharing bit right from their birth.

Sharing also leads to understanding the concept of ownership. The twins understand colour coding, so whenever there are two sets, they pretty much stick to their own. And for anything that is one, we have a concept of 80:20, 80% of the time young ladies ask, wait for their turn, give and take. For the rest 20% of the time, they push and pull.

Bi-lingual: With a Telugu mother and a Gujarati father, we were warned by many, including a top-notch paediatrician that the girls might get confused between languages and might be late-learners when it comes to speaking. Well, the opposite has happened. They speak both the languages fluently for their age, can translate instantaneously for our benefit and go on and on in the language of their audience. Hindi and English are currently waiting for their turn.

I-pad: Yes, we do not have a TV at home and I do not use a smartphone, but we do have an I-pad, that was bought a year before the girls were born. It was hardly used even until the girls turned one. After that, the I-pad just sprung to life. One of the girls is extremely finicky about the quantity of food, and the other one with the taste of food, enough to drive us crazy all the time. We needed help to get them started for their meal times and Little Baby Bum videos have been a life-line. Also, they are just the kind of exposure we want for our daughters. If not having girls interested in TV and smartphone meant that they will not have any screen time at all, then that has not been the case. They are currently outgrowing this need as well.

Sweet & Sour: They love their sugar, their sweetmeats. They adore their lemons and all other tangy stuff that they can pop into their mouths. Another advantage/disadvantage of having parents from two different regions of the country. I just cannot handle anything sour, my wife does not have a great liking for sweet, and the two girls have developed a fondness for both.

Hands-On: My wife runs an experiential travel firm for kids (https://www.facebook.com/Travelwithdirtyfeet). It is what we believe in totally. So, hands-on is what defines our parenting as well as our daughters’ childhood. They are involved along with us in everything that we do – dusting, cooking, doing laundry, shopping for groceries, fixing and repairing household stuff, running errands, whatever it is including tidying up their own clutter. In other words, doing things together is what describes us.

Thumb sucking: Both the girls have a habit of sucking their thumb and couple of fingers respectively when they are nearing their sleep-time or are tired and want to rest on their parents. Have seen complete strangers walking up to us and giving us home remedies to cure our children of this. Whereas the paediatrician says that it does not require any kind of intervention till they turn four. We are of course fine with what the doctor tells us and hence with our daughters’ sucking, but quite a few people around us just want us to pull their fingers out from the mouth. Another of our free advice syndrome.

What is your must-have growing up list for your child?

10 things my daughters are growing up without

Every parent would want to give the best possible childhood to their children. We are no exception, trying hard in our own way, unsure and wavering, but trying nevertheless our understanding of what parenting is. Whilst working on a list of what my daughters are growing up with, I also put together things that they are not doing, that they are growing up without. Some of these are well thought out, calculated decisions, whilst some are inadvertent.  Sharing with you, in no particular order, what O +ve and B +ve are not having in their life, at present.

Playschool: A WIP decision, so as to say. Our daughters are 3.5 years and my wife and I believe that they currently belong to their home space. They are in the familiar ground, exploring and learning at their own pace, adequately engaged and occupied. Eventually, they might go to school. When and where? We are taking six months at a time to get to that and are not in a hurry at all on that front. One thing we know for sure is that we want them to just enjoy their childhood. Whenever we go out or have people over, we are often bombarded with advice as to how much damage all of this will cause to our kids. More on this later.

Television: Barring for a year in Mumbai, i.e. 2008, we never had a television in our life. In the course of the day, there are times when there is too much of action around me, I do feel tempted to use the services of the idiot box to get them off my back and buy myself some time to breathe, some time to go to the washroom. But the repulsion that we have for the passivity that television brings along with it never allows us to put this thought into action. The result – our twins are growing up without TV. They do know about its existence, they get to occasionally check it out during their social visits and hospital visits where it is perpetually on. Thankfully they aren’t asking for it as yet.

Advertisements: This is a conscious one. We know that girls are growing up to be a part of a society which promotes consumerism in every possible way. Why do they have to know now – which detergent powder to use, which toothpaste to use, what clothes to wear and so on? I do not like “Pester Power”, the term used by advertisers to manipulate children and their thoughts. And I hate advertisements which show children vouching for a product. I googled and realized that there are countries that ban advertisements aimed at children, but as is the case in India – yahaan sab kuch chalta hain.

Pink: Since we began shopping for our daughters, we have had to buy two sets of everything to keep things separate and to ensure easy identification. Thanks for this, we were saved from the deluge of PINK. But soon realised that the only other option was Blue. The omnipresence of Pink and Blue across all kids’ stuff is just nauseating. I suppose that the gender stereotyping starts right from birth. Our girls have a right to all the colours of the rainbow – if it means getting them to paint their stuff in colours of their choice, getting stuff tailored and customised for them, then so be it. Our twins are not dependent on any colour for the identity of their gender.

Barbie: Girls play with dolls and boys play with cars, girls play with kitchen sets and boys play with blocks. O +ve and B +ve love playing with all 4 mentioned above and more. They have of course been gifted Barbies, which lie wrapped up in the cupboard somewhere, with the wife certain that she is not going to gift them to any other girl either. #NoBarbieForMyGirls.

Lays: No Lays, No Pringles, No Cheetos and No Kurkure. No Soft drinks, no canned fruit juices either. The twins thrive on homemade snacks and resort to packaged biscuits, candies, chocolates and ice creams occasionally. They love their sugarcane juice and lemon juice – fresh.

Smartphone: I have never used one, my wife has got two. The girls have been told that they are free to use their father’s phone, but not their mother’s, and somehow they seem to be at peace with this rule. So, they speak to their grandparents and extended family, all on a feature phone. They are well aware that one can watch videos and video call on the smartphone, but they have never shown any interest whatsoever in picking up the smartphone. So far so good.

Friends: This is an unintended one. Not going to a playschool, not having kids of their age in the apartment where we live, not having a park or a garden or any open public space nearby in a walking distance has led to this. We are still figuring out a way out of this on a daily basis.

Movies: Wife used to be a movie-buff but after being married to a person for 11 years, who cannot sit through a movie, she has lost interest. My kids have until now not been to a cinema hall to watch a movie. Friends and cousins cry foul, they strongly recommend that we should initiate the kids into this at a young age otherwise they will find it difficult to handle the sounds and lights at a later date. We don’t think the girls are missing out on anything significant in their life on this count. When they are old enough, they could decide for themselves.

Stay at home Mother: Girls are growing up seeing their father at home and their mother going to office daily. Till now, it has been fine as their socialization has been fairly limited. We are, however, not sure how they will respond once they figure out the general norm in other families, as they grow up. And yes, they do want their mother to stay with them at home, on a continuous basis.

Malls: Have never really understood the concept of going to a mall for recreational purpose or for anything else. We do not go to malls – simply put; it is not a day well spent or so much awesome.

Not sure how these omissions from their life are going to impact them in the days to come – good/bad/somewhere in between?

What are the things that your child is growing up without?

How to be a man – Raise a Child

Google search of how to be a man throws up 1,53,00,00,000 results (wonder who searches such stuff)? Now, I will also add my own version to this quest of discovering manhood.

A woman gives birth, a man does not. A woman nurses the child, which a man cannot. But, after nursing, which is gender specific, how and what led a woman continuing the primary caregiver role? How and what led a man to be what he is today – an arm-chair expert, bossing around the family no matter what his own capability is, carrying the belief that since he is the primary bread-winner, he is a know-all though he is actually a pain in all the wrong places. I have all the issues with this being of a man, which I was myself, rather still I am.

After the birth of twin daughters, I always wanted to be with them contributing to their day-to-day upbringing. Finally, after they turned 2.5 years; I put down my papers, my wife started working full-time with her own enterprise that she considers the first child, and I started my journey of a stay-at-home-dad (SAHD).

Now, I realize what this experience is teaching me. I recognize what a woman goes through being at home, taking care of the children and the house-hold – a thankless task, and if the woman is a working professional herself, consider that too. The man just for the sake of putting in 8-9 hours of formal work and only he would know, how much he actually worked in the age of whatsapp, facebook, tea break, gossip break, meetings etc, that he takes it for granted what the woman does in the house the whole day for his family and the bugger gets to order around everybody when he is back. Ok, ok, not all man would be such a**-holes, but many of them are, and all of us know it.

To be a man – I would like to propose a mandatory period for the man to be involved in the upbringing of his child / children till they turn 18. Every year, man should get to spend minimum of 2 months with his progeny so that he is aware of what the woman gives to the society and how he can contribute to the betterment of tomorrow’s citizens as an active parent.

Consider the benefits- Man becomes more civilized, becomes aware of the gender divide, understand what goes into what he takes for granted and moves his back-side and his mind, for once, for his own children. As this makes man more open-minded, his violent instincts will get curbed – less road rage, less aggressiveness, less spitting around – less of all unwanted behaviour. Assuming that man at the least, would not want to set a wrong example for his own children. Though he keeps doing this all the time when he is in public currently, for that matter, even private.

Man gets to be more accommodative, more progressive, more tolerant, more persuasive – more of all the wanted qualities, once he starts staying at home for an extended period with his children.

On the economic front, for the service class to get 2 months of paid leave means that organizations will have to create new jobs. For the current 6 jobs, one more job will be created, as a rule of thumb, meaning 16% more employment. For self-employed, they will also need to come up with their own replacements in this time-frame. See, job markets suddenly start looking better.

Of course, man will not be ready for this change over-night, as he has looked down for centuries on what woman contributes to the society. However, if we have to build an inclusive society for tomorrow’s citizens where there is mutual respect, peace and love, this change has to happen.

The man has to learn to be a man. The sooner, the better. Raise a Child.

I am living my dream as a parent

  • I am working 24*7, 7 days a week, for the last 9 months of my life.
  • I do not get any weekly off, rather my work increases on the days of festivals, national holidays.
  • I do not get to sit at a place for more than, say, 5 minutes, have to always be on my toes, running around.
  • There is no financial payout – no salary or perk or incentive.
  • My appraisals keep happening every day, every hour, every minute.
  • There is no fixed time for lunch. I am lucky that I have never had to miss my lunch though dinner gets missed out almost once a week, and breakfast is completely ruled out.
  • I have not slept continuously for more than 2-3 hours, at max, for more than last 3 years of my life, as my work requires me to be awake at all god-forsaken hours.
  • I do not get to toy with a smart-phone during working hours, which is 24*7, rather I do not have a smartphone at all, as my job does not require it as such.
  • I do not get time even for a loo break and have to hold back for hours if my work so requires.

Wondering, what is the connecting link between the title of the blog and the above statements? Do I sound like a typical rat-racer for whom the work is worship or what (barring the statement of no financial payouts)?

I tell you, I am a stay-at-home father for my twin daughters and I am living my dream.

  • I get to be a part of my daughters’ growing up, every day, every hour, every minute.
  • I get to do the most rewarding job – being with my children – feeding, playing, putting to sleep, waking up, cleaning up, bathing, dressing, putting up with tantrums, pulling my hair out.
  • I get paid in hugs and kisses at the most unexpected times and also when I cry for help.
  • I try to decipher the health of my children from the colour/ texture/quantity/smell of their poop.
  • I feel awkward, I provide entertainment, I feel out-of-place, I feel stupid – wherever / whenever I go out.
  • I have realized how many corners can a house have, how many minutes can be in an hour and how many hours in a day and how at times, sun sets even before I realize that sun rise did happen.
  • I am getting to know how to feel dead-tired and ecstatic, simultaneously, well almost, unless I bump into a wall with my eyes open.
  • I have started to know my own self better with all my weaknesses staring at me, point-blank and nowhere to hide for me.
  • I have started to realize how difficult a woman’s life is, how important a woman’s life is, how much taken for granted a woman’s life is.

I tell you, I am a stay-at-home father for my twin daughters and I am living my dream.

Welcome to my blog, where I try to chronicle my journey of parenting, joy and distress, anguish and fulfilment, happiness and misery, frustration and bliss; all at the same time as I try at growing up together with my daughters.