Monthly Archives: March 2009

Puzzled

When we were in Binsar last month, I carried a large, 20-piece, floor puzzle which was invaluable in keeping the kids entertained on those cold, dark evenings. Of course, they couldn’t actually do the puzzle – not even close. The first couple of times even I had to work quite hard at doing it. (And if you have any uncomplimentary thoughts about my intellect or my visual-spatial skills, go ahead, leave a comment, that’s what blogs are about, right?)

Anyway, I didn’t expect the girls to get anywhere with the puzzle and I didn’t tell them to do it either. I just left them to it. They loved putting the pieces together in random order, and once in a way I’d help them to do it right and they enjoyed seeing it done.

But it took them a lot less time than I expected to get it. Now they do it with elan, and in very little time at that. I was wondering whether they had perhaps memorized the overall picture (a collection of farm animals), but it seems that they have just figured out that various different parts of the animals go together in the appropriate orientation to make whole animals. So I got them another jigsaw puzzle, a small one of only 5-6 pieces, and they got that one right away. Wow, they’re smart.

I loved doing jigsaws as a child, and I kept at it until quite an advanced age, so I’m pretty pleased that they enjoy it too. Plus, it keeps them happily engaged – and working together – for 20 minutes at a stretch. So they’re puzzling away and they’re happy and I’m happy.

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Bubbles And Balloons

On Wednesday last week, the kids were invited to a birthday party. S&S’s daughter, Jathi, was turning one. It was a grand affair at a nearby club.

The kids have quite got the concept of birthday parties now. If I bake a cake – a not infrequent occurrence nowadays – or if I light a candle (an extremely frequent occurrence, necessitated by the almost daily powercuts in the evening), they immediately start crowding around and singing happy birthday to you.

A late evening birthday party that starts after their dinner time and ends after our dinner time is a slightly novel concept to them, but if I had been worried about their energy levels and manageability (which I might have been if I’d had a moment to think about it; but after I resumed working, I’ve completely given up the luxury of thinking) I needn’t have bothered. From the start, they were in great spirits, running around everywhere and getting up to all kinds of – mostly harmless – mischief. They attacked the food with gusto and went through an embarrassing quantity of chicken. Thus fortified, they decided to gang up with V&V’s son, Vidit, and get down to serious work.

First, it was bubbles. There were these small plastic cylindrical containers full of soap solution, into which you dip a small plastic skewer-type thingy (there must be names for these objects, but somebody will have to enlighten me) and it picks up a thin film of the solution, and then you blow on it and you get a stream of bubbles.

Vidit was quite good at it, and there were a couple of older kids who were absolute experts, but Mrini and Tara were seeing these marvels of science and technology for the first time ever. They were thrilled to bits, but spectacularly unsuccessful. They grinned and giggled, spilt the solution, and swallowed a fair bit, frothed at the mouth and looked pleased as punch, but they got hardly one or two tiny bubbles out of it all. It was completely heart-rending, somehow somewhat uplifting, and thoroughly entertaining to watch these two tiny tots huffing and puffing with all their might, only for all their efforts to be rewarded with more spittle and soap solution than bubbles, while all around them other kids got streams of bubbles with complete ease. Their puzzlement was almost as great as their delight.

After all the soap solution had been spilt or ingested (it must have cleaned out their insides wonderfully, they suffered no ill-effects of the spicy food), the three of them turned their attention to the balloons.

There were lots and lots of balloons decorating the place. The older kids had started by bursting them with toothpicks, but had tired of it long before they made a serious dent in the stock of balloons. Armed with spoons, our three little musketeers attacked the balloons with complete determination. Working as a team, they cornered a bunch, pinned it down to the floor and mercilessly jabbed hapless the balloons with the butt-ends if the spoons, till the bunch was completely annihilated. Then, they went on to the next bunch, and they kept it up until there was not a single balloon left within their reach.

It was a most marvelous and entertaining way to spend an evening, for both performers and audience. Bubbles and balloons – the simple pleasures of childhood.

Binsar

Of all our trips with the kids so far, I’d have to say that this was the most successful – and so also the most enjoyable, for everyone.

The long train journey – three nights interrupted by a day-long stopover in Delhi – went off without a hitch. The car journey up through the hills was horrible, though, as the girls were car sick every minute of the way. Luckily Amit had taken his medicine so he was ok, but it was still interminable and nightmarish.

Our guesthouse in Binsar was in a nature reserve (hence no electricity), which meant it was quiet and remote. The rooms were clean and of a comfortable size, but not luxurious. The funny thing was that the bathrooms had windows that looked out on to – and worse, could be looked in to from – the reception and driveway area! Just as well there was no electricity so it was always quite dark inside.

Outside, a short distance away from the rooms, there was a large terrace. Lined up at a good distance from the terrace was an impressive array of snow peaks, with lower ranges of hills and valleys spread out before them. The most famous of the peaks was Nanda Devi; other well-known peaks including Trishul, Nanda Ghunti, and, far away to the northeast, the Annapurna range also did their best to impress.

Binsar is not a place for frenetic activity. There are some nice walks you can go on, even a ten-km day trip, but with the kids around the best we could hope for was to do the leisurely 2-km walk to zero point.

We spent Sunday doing nothing much. I don’t know about the kids, but I was still recovering from the harrowing drive up.

On Monday, we lazed around on the fabulous terrace, enjoyed the fabulous sunshine, the fabulous views, and the fabulous food.

On Tuesday, we moaned about the weather being overcast, the sunshine being weak, the views being obscured, and the food being monotonous.

On Tuesday evening, there was thunder and lightening, and the invertor gave way (due to the lightening, they said) and we had a candlelight dinner and were packed off to bed amidst a short but businesslike spell of rain.

On Wednesday, we woke to rain which suddenly and magically turned into snow. It snowed all day and we began to wonder whether it would keep it up the next day or not, and whether, if it did, we’d be able to get out on Friday morning. Meanwhile, we moaned about the cold and the challenges of keeping two kids occupied for the whole day indoors.

On Wednesday evening, the snowfall stopped, and the sky cleared up and the moon and stars came out. With everything white, it was beautiful. We stopped moaning about the cold.

On Thursday the weather was clear and the snow began to melt. By late afternoon, it was all gone. But we weren’t complaining – it was wonderful while it lasted.

On Tuesday, we had ventured towards zero point with the kids in tow. We didn’t quite make it, because the kids got tired and hungry and cranky and we had to carry them back to the rest house for lunch. On Thursday afternoon, I set out after lunch, leaving Amit to keep an eye on the sleeping twins. A mere half an hour later, I could proudly say that at least one member of our expedition had made it to the peak – that is, to zero point. It wasn’t a great achievement, there was only a bit of a tower there and a good view. The path was easy – a four-wheel-drive vehicle could have made it. Still, it was a nice little outing, especially with all the clumps of melting snow that slid off the trees all around me, missing me by a hair’s breadth many times and landing with a soft, soggy “plonk” on the forest floor.

And on Friday, after a leisurely breakfast, and just around when lunch was being served, we left.

I had been dreading the drive down, with the memory of the drive up still deeply etched into my consciousness, but it wasn’t bad at all. None of us had had lunch, so there wasn’t much in the stomach to come up, and apparently there was just enough to stay down. The kids fell asleep soon after we started and stayed asleep nearly until we reached, with very few, short breaks for retching. I could almost enjoy the scenery.

Looking back, it was a great trip. Everything that could have gone wrong didn’t. Nobody fell sick, nobody got lost, and on the whole a good time was had by all, with the exception of that traumatic 3-hour drive up to Binsar. Given all the disarray of travel, specially when you throw together two long train journeys, a long-ish car ride, twins, a remote hill station with limited electricity and uncertain weather… and altogether a two-week stint away from the comforts of home, I’d have to say this trip was a resounding success. We all returned home overflowing with high spirits… and several shades darker than the way we were.