There is no pleasure higher than playing with one’s grandchildren. When they play and laugh heartily, one’s heart skips with joy. The whole house comes alive, and the spirits of everyone present soar sky-high.
Unfortunately, children also fight amongst themselves. And fight they do, with the same passion they show while playing. It takes a few minutes for elders to sort out the dispute and settle the matter. The children repeatedly say sorry, forget about it, and resume playing. Unlike elders, they don’t hold grudges and settle scores later. All that is needed while dealing with such children is a little patience and gentle persuasion.
My six grandchildren, all bundles of joy, meet almost every weekend to come and play with me. While playing, they often get into arguments and scuffles but agree to my system of administering justice and settle their disputes.
Children love riddles and brain teasers. The expression on their faces when they successfully solve a mystery is just beyond words. I have been giving questions to them and rewarding them a buck each when they provide the right answer. This made no dent in my wallet but gave immense pleasure to the kids.
I used to tell my grandchildren several stories of my life at sea and adventures, some real and some made up, and found them listening with rapt attention. Notably, stories of monsters used to keep them spellbound.
Finally, stories of treasure and treasure hunt have been popular with children since time immemorial. Combining all these with my fertile imagination, I spun yarn, and the result is the book. Captain Riddle’s Treasure.
Riddles, popular with the kids, form the centerpiece of this novel. I took popular concepts and turned them on their heads. The ship is unique; the port side is a sailing ship of yore, and the starboard is a modern ship a cross between a warship and a freighter. The captain has some quirks and mannerisms. The kids outwit a sea monster, Godzilla, and the spaceship with their riddles. The sword fight between the girl and the pirate, an army of leprechauns, a rainbow at midnight, a knight astride a lion, a fight between the knight and the Night Fairy, the kids taking rides on a lion, putting their hand in its mouth, lion chasing the monkey in the superstructure of the ship, the computers and gizmos confusing the knight and a boy getting stuck in the timeline- all new concepts will tickle the interest of kids as well as adults.
The second book Race for Crown Jewels deals with mysterious creatures and educates children about Mars, Esperanto, expressions such as white elephant, pink panther, and has a story full of action. The fight with the flying pigs, the way Emily gets the better of a Gurkha soldier in a sword fight is a few of the many highlights of the book.
If you have kids looking for mystery and fun, this is a great way to help them spend time during the pandemic!
G.V. Ramarao served for the best part of his life in the Indian Navy as an officer and later switched to the mercantile marine. He has published many humorous short stories and a range of articles in various magazines and newspapers in India.
“That was the age of inkwells and penholders with nibs that could be replaced. The fountain pen had only recently been invented, and it made quite a mess; biros, or ballpoint pens, were still in the future. What an antiquated lot we were! But then, Dickens wrote all his novels with a quill pen, and so did other great authors, and I was already something of a bookworm, reading Dickens and Stevenson and even Agatha Christie and P G Wodehouse.
There was no television in those days and, of course, no computers, but we could go to the cinema once a month. Everyone read comics—Batman and Superman and Green Lantern—but not many were reading books. We had to borrow one from the library every week, but these books usually went unread. I suppose it’s much the same today.”
It was 1947, and 13-year old Ruskin Bond was studying at a British public school—the Bishop Cotton School, Simla. In the wake of Independence, it’s the year when life was about to change quite dramatically for everyone.
“It had been a momentous year—a year full of incident, of friendships won and lost, of memorable hockey and football matches, of tunnels and canings, of the coming of Independence, Partition and of the school in turmoil.”
To mark his 85th birthday, Bond launched this third part of his bestselling memoir Coming Round the Mountain. The book chronicles episodes of Bond’s days at boarding school, complete with visits to the tuck shop, pillow fights in dormitories, compulsory early morning PT, sticky lumpy rice, masters in academic gowns, short haircuts, floggings and canings, and grace before meals.
Previous books in the series include Looking for the Rainbow‘ and Till the Clouds Roll By. The first describes the two years (1941-42) Bond spent with his father when he was nine years old. His father, Flt Lt A A Bond, served in the RAF during World War II. A happy time for Bond, it however ended abruptly with the loss of his father during the war. The incident left quite an impression on him as a young boy (“Do wars solve anything, or do they just lead to more wars?”). The second book elaborates further on the sudden change in Bond’s circumstances, and the effort he had to make to adjust to a new and very different life with his mother and stepfather. His closest friends at the time were a Muslim, a Parsi and a Christian. Each were completely uninterested in each other’s regional backgrounds, and friendship and loyalty were all that mattered to them—as was eating jalebis and figuring out how to beat their rival team, The Lawrence School, Sanawar, in a hockey match.
Against this innocent backdrop, the reader gets to perceive India’s independence from the children’s point of view. In pre-Independence days, writes Bond, there was a lot of uncertainty. Some of their foreign teachers were going back to their countries, and rumours were rife that all English-medium schools would be closing down. In a poignant scene, Bond talks to his friend Azhar who belongs to Peshawar, about the country being cut into two. “People are different, I suppose—unless they love each other. Friends must remain friends,” responds a naïve Bond.
On the 15th of August, 1947, the students are treated to laddoos, halwa and samosas, along with a flag-raising ceremony and the singing of the national anthem. The changes that followed were “fast and frightening”—comprising everything from maps to postage stamps and railway timetables. Bond further recalls some of the horrors of Partition, particularly in Simla:
“There was a riot in Lower Bazaar, and another in Chhota Simla, the area close to our school. One of the school bearers failed to turn up for work one morning; his mutilated body was found in a gully near the bazaar. Another fled to Kalka to see if his family was all right; he did not return.”
As parents of students from what is now Pakistan got increasingly worried about their children’s safety, it was decided that the Muslim children would be evacuated—roughly one-third of the school’s strength. A few army trucks were provided by the government and manned by Indian and British soldiers. The convoy left at midnight. Bond tearfully bids goodbye to his friend Azhar, hoping to see him again.
A collector’s edition, the book has lovely illustrations by Mihir Joglekar. An evocative trip down memory lane, it’s a must-have for every Bond fan!
‘Coming Round the Mountain’ by Ruskin Bond. Publisher: Puffin Books
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. You can read all her published work on www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com
I am an executive coach, motivational speaker, senior corporate trainer & English Announcer with the Overseas Division of All India Radio. I was also the youngest communication instructor of the award-winning all-women cabin crew of India’s largest airline.
My childhood dream
I am the only son of a brave single mother, an Army daughter, who brought me up by herself, overcoming every challenge that life threw at us. My dad, an eminent barrister, passed away when I was very young and since then, I have seen life’s trials through formative experiences. I belong to a family of nation builders; my paternal grandfather N.B. Laha was a freedom fighter who received the prestigious Tamara Patra from the Indian Prime Minister and my maternal grandfather received several medals for distinguished service in the Army. I always wanted to represent my nation abroad and that dream came true when I won the Fulbright scholarship, one of the most prestigious academic awards in the world.
It has been an amazing experience to be representing India as a Fulbright scholar and cultural ambassador in the United States. I vividly remember my excitement when I my plane touched down in Portland, Oregon. I instantly fell in love with the beautiful city of Eugene, where I attended my summer orientation at the University of Oregon. I had a unique opportunity to meet so many people, from amazing professors to friendly fellow Fulbrighters from across the world. The evening of live country music next to the lake in a ranch setting shall remain etched in my memory forever. But most importantly, I held high the Indian flag, an honor that I had earned as a Fulbrighter.
As a Fulbright scholar, I am a faculty member at the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University.. Living, working and studying in Washington DC has been a very fulfilling experience. Teaching American students Hindi in the political capital of the world gives me a chance to project my country in a positive manner and promote the best that Indian culture has to offer.
My first days in America were spent in hunting for rental accommodation. There were occasions when I felt like I was Harry Potter sitting on his trunk, waiting for the Knight Bus to arrive! I stayed in hotels and guest houses, before I finally found an apartment. The bright side of this itinerant experience is that I managed to find a place, which is loated just 20 minutes from the White House.
When I first stepped into the classroom at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, I immediately noticed how different the environment was, vis-a-vis India. Back home, students wouldn’t dare to eat sandwiches and sip on coffee while attending a lecture, but here this behavior was considered to be totally normal. Almost every student carries a Macbook with them and during the lecture, they are constantly taking notes. Teaching Hindi to career-oriented future diplomats and policy-makers means that I have to make my native language easy and interesting for my students. Grammar can be tricky, so I use a lot of examples. Some students are really interested to learn the correct intonation for sentences, so that they sound like a native speaker when in India. In fact, they want to pronounce each word perfectly, even though we native speakers often take the liberty to play around with the pronunciation of many words. Students take keen interest in South Asia and the geo-political developments there. While many students are “heritage learners,”- born to immigrant parents who want their children to learn Indian language and culture, there are others who seek to work in South Asia and are learning the language as it is crucial for their success. Being a cultural ambassador of my country, I strive to enhance their knowledge of the diversity in India, be it food, religion, culture, language or the surroundings. Moreover, I am a trained musician and singer, so I use old Hindi songs as a tool to explain language and culture.
In India, students often look up to teachers as the Guru, who takes the final decision about everything. Here in America, teachers are given a lot of respect, but students get an equal say in discussions. And they have the right to disagree with the professor’s view on a certain topic. In India, that’s something that might not be appreciated. Before a professor takes a final decision about assignments, it is important to negotiate buy-in from students in the class, keeping in mind their tight schedule and exams.
Studying American foreign policy, English and French at Johns Hopkins University has certainly contributed to my growth as an academic scholar in a big way. I felt very happy the day my English professor, a former US Ambassador, told me that I was a gifted speaker. I learnt advanced speaking techniques for panel discussions, press briefings, persuasive speeches and policy debates. The French classes at SAIS have helped me gain confidence as a novice French speaker and the song Je te le donneis one of my all-time favorites now! Attending panel discussions, conferences and events has become second nature to me.. I was proud to showcase Indian culture during the Fulbright mid-year conference, an event that brought together 400 Fulbright language teachers, where I even spoke to Assistant Secretary of State Ms. Marie Royce expressing my wish to meet the US President and that I aspire to become the Prime Minister of India in the future. She was very impressed and encouraged me to continue working towards my goal.
In the years to come, I shall remember celebrating Christmas night in Times Square, New York. To add to the excitement, I was able to give my mother the best birthday gift ever–an evening in Manhattan, on the world-famous Fifth Avenue, to be precise. The view of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty was truly one to remember, as were the taste of the one-dollar pizza and the experience of travelling on the NYC subway. On the other hand, the Baltimore Harbor offered me the chance to enjoy fresh seafood and a chance to see submarines, ships and boats, all at the same place.
My time at Johns Hopkins University has been very eventful. I recently attended the India Initiative conference at Georgetown University, where I got a chance to meet the charismatic former US Ambassador to India Richard Verma and the historian Ramachandra Guha, among others. My experience as a champion debater was put to great use when I coached SAIS students who are participating in this year’s Hindi debate at Yale University. And to top it all, I was invited to speak as a panelist at the main campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where I shared my Fulbright experience with current students, encouraging them to explore their interest in India through a Fulbright grant. At the end of my address, a student walked up to me. She was from Africa and told me that she could really connect with what I said and felt really inspired to do something for her country. The university now plans to make this an annual event and administrators thanked me for this idea.
My Fulbright year ends next month, but I shall take back with me an incredible experience, many fond memories and yes, a congratulatory letter from the US President. The initial culture shock, shopping at the supermarket, attending classes at SAIS, promoting my language and culture, stringing together words in French and excelling in my English classes – each experience has been valuable. The United States shall always have a special place in my heart, for it is a country that recognizes and rewards real talent.
Gaurav Laha is a Fulbright scholar working at Johns Hopkins University.