Thursday, May 25, 2006

Where is our value system

There were 9 reported suicide cases, all students in the age group of 17 -18, with more than dozen students undergoing treatment in various hospitals, under critical care, in the last two days. The reason: results of 12th standard and PUC were announced, in all states of the country. These numbers reported, however, are solely for Bangalore, based on the reports of a couple of English newspapers. There could be similar cases in other towns and districts. There was a reported case of a brilliant girl from a reputed school committing suicide on the eve of the results, fearing failure. Sadly, when the results were announced, the girl had passed with distinction. The other cases reported were either students who could not pass the exam or who got a much lower percentage of marks than expected and so on. One case needs special mention - that of a child who reportedly committed suicide because there was no power supply in the area on the night prior to the examinations due to heavy rains and winds.

Most of these are children of educated parents, studying in reputed schools, though there are children from the lower rank of the society also, in this list. Surprisingly the cases in the lower strata of society are very few. Does it ring a bell? What have the children learnt all through their learning years in school as well as at home? Who has failed in teaching the children that passing the 12th standard exam with a good percentage is not the only sole purpose/achievement in life? There is much more to life than passing this, as one counsellor was mentioning in a TV program - a test lasting about three hours to test hard labour put in during the past twelve years. If they were so frustrated in not getting through the exam, why did they not prepare well for their exams well in advance? By their cowardly act, who has gained anything? If they thought that they were disappointing their parents by not securing good marks in their exams, how have they fulfilled their duty as a son/daughter by committing suicide, thus plunging them into irrecoverable sorrow and guilt? What would be the life of the parents hereafter?

Or are the parents to be blamed for not inculcating a sportsmanship in their children, in not nurturing a value system in them to face disappointments in life with equanimity, or as a necessary evil. Are they putting too much pressure on their children in achieving something they are not capable of? Are they trying to achieve through their children what they themselves could not achieve due to various reasons? Towards achieving these goals, what are their inputs? Do they sit with their children and find out about their day to day activities in school and outside? Do they advise them about how work towards their goal? Do they provide a congenial atmosphere at home for their kids to prepare for their exams?

What is the role of school in putting the children through so much stress to perform better and better? All schools want to advertise their centum pass percentage with equal percentage of distinctions. All schools want their students to be on the rank list. They compete with one another in putting the photograph of the children who secured distinction/above 90% etc in the newspapers. Do they provide any counselling to their wards how to approach the examinations and how to prepare for them systematically? Do they have close interactions with the parents of their students and are they able to discuss with them the position of their students in the class? Is their responsibility only to reprimand the student sternly if he/she does not perform well?

Generally speaking, the blame could rest on all. The children of present day have clear ideas about what they want to become when they grow up, from a very early age, or so they feel. It all comes from listening to their parent's views about what they (parents) want their children to become when they grow up. For example, a little girl I know was saying at the age of 6 that she wanted to become an IAS officer, when she grew up. At that age, she did not even know what the role of an IAS officer was nor did she know what educational qualifications were needed to become an IAS Officer. It was only because her father was a secretary to a lady IAS officer and when he came home from office, he used to tell his little daughter, "You should become an IAS officer when you grow up." Thankfully, she has outgrown her childish ambition and is now pursuing a totally different academic field.

It is good to instil aims and ambitions in young minds, at the same time, the parents should also be willing to spare time and energy in helping them to achieve their dreams, by giving them proper directions in systematic study plan and choice of subjects for study and providing them a proper atmosphere to prepare for the examinations and also nurturing their mental strength to work for their ambitions and take failures as stepping stones and not tomb stones.

What is generally found in today's urban India is a set of people all with high career aspirations to reach the topmost step in the ladder of success in society with no proper directions to reach there. They are a harried lot rushing from one thing to another from dawn to dusk with no time for the family. The only have enough time to tell their kids which moon to shoot for, not how to actually do it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Recipe: Kalan

Sometime ago, I had written up the recipe for Rasakalan. Kalan is a more popular version of the curd (yoghurt) based dish, which is a must for Onam and other big occasions. This is also called "Kurukku kalan" as it is prepared by thickening (kurukking) beaten curds by boiling.

Raw banana(the kerala nendran banana is the best if available)1 no.
Chena(jameen kand/karunaikizhangu/suvarne gadde)200gms.
Beaten, thick sour curds6 cups
Turmeric powder2 tsp.
Pepper powder1 tbsp.
Salt to taste
Coconut1 cup
Green chillies6 nos.
Curry leaves2 sprigs
Methi seeds1 tsp.
Mustard seeds1 tbsp.
Red chillies3 nos.
Oil for garnish(In Kerala, coconut oil is used for garnishing, which imparts a special flavour to the dish)


Wash and cut the vegetables into 2" square pieces. They should be thick. Cook the vegetables, in just enough water, adding turmeric powder, pepper powder and salt(this could done in a pressure cooker).

Transfer the cooked vegetables to a wide mouthed thick bottomed heavy pan, and add the beaten sour curds and boil, stirring occasionally, until the gravy is thickened to a semi solid consistency.Remove from stove. Add a sprig of curry leaves.

Fry the methi seeds to a golden brown in a drop of oil and grind to a fine powder and add to the gravy.

Heat oil in a pan. When it smokes add, the mustard seeds. When the mustard splutters, add the red chillies broken into halves and curry leaves and add to the gravy.

(The Kurukku kalan is usually prepared up to this stage and stored . It will keep good upto 1 month even under room temperature. Whenever needed, ground coconut and green chillies is mixed and used.)

Grind the coconut and green chillies to a thick paste, adding curds, if necessary. Do not add water while grinding. Mix to the thickened gravy.

Enjoy with boiled rice or chappathi or Poori.

This is the kurukku kalan.

Update: Based on a comment left here, I've posted an addendum up top along with my other Onam related posts.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


The other day, a young friend of mine was asking me how to develop leadership qualities in children.

Leadership qualities form when there is a need felt to shine above all in a group. There must be a group for a leader to be born. When there is a group, there is naturally a conflict of ideas and there is a need for someone to take the lead and present an idea which would satisfy at least the majority in the group, if not all. The next time, a similar conflict arises; all are looking to the same person whose idea satisfied most of them. A leader is born. The leader in turn gets the confidence to put more effort in finding better ideas which could be acceptable to even more.

Usually, leadership quality is inborn. There are children who have this in them to come up with something in any situation. They can express an opinion about everything around them, be it a new toy, a book, a person, a place they visited, the food they ate. They can also learn new things very fast and thus help others understand. When they are very young, it may not be a significant observation as far as the grownups are concerned; still they have something to say is what must be appreciated. When they are in a group, they have this natural quality to lead the team in choosing the activity they would indulge in. They would choose whether they would go out and play or sing and dance or play with the toys. Usually, this leader is accepted by the team very enthusiastically. It is for the elders in the family to nurture this quality in the child, by encouraging him/her and appreciating his/her capability. Saying a few words of praise, taking active part in their activities, teaching them new games and activities go a long way in instilling a confidence in the child that his/her talent is appreciated .

In today's, nuclear families, it is very difficult for a child to show his/her leadership qualities from early childhood, as more often than not he/she is the only child or sometimes the only grandchild and there is no platform for him/her to exhibit his/her leadership qualities. Whatever he/she says or does is accepted without question by the doting parents and grandparents. Only when they start going to school, that they interact with other children of their age and sometimes they are overawed by the number of children they have to spend their time with. Some children actually withdraw into a shell when they cannot speak above the group. Some children just follow others in everything. It is also wrong to think that, the children who follow a leader do not have leadership qualities in them. They are perhaps observing the leader and learning what it takes to reach above the group. It also does not mean that only leaders are the best and followers are second grade. A group can have only one leader and it so often happens that the same group will have different persons who are good at different fields. The leader is only coordinating and bringing cohesion in the group. There cannot be a leader without followers.

It is also true that the leader is under tremendous pressure even from a young age to perform. He/she always has to prove his/her leadership qualities or else others might take his/her position. He/she should be strong enough to take the occasional failures also in his/her stride. The parents of young leaders have a very supporting role to play in moulding their children as well as giving them the moral support and right advice from time to time.

When we observe a group of children we can easily make out this downcast child, who is otherwise the leader. The other day, two children were playing. One of them was able to snap his fingers fast and the other one was not good at it. The second child started sobbing with her father that she was not able to do what the other boy was doing, and it took her father 5 minutes to tell her that she was good at reciting so many rhymes and stories that the other boy was not able to and similarly he was good at something else.

All through the growth of such children, special care should be taken to see that at no point they feel frustrated when they come face to face with other leaders, which happens so very often. They should be taught that just like them there are other leaders who are to be respected and accepted. The leaders also are continuously striving to outshine and they cannot just let go and relax, which puts a serious strain on them. They should be taught that it is alright to falter sometimes or just be average in some fields and they can actually relax and enjoy. This is a very important lesson that every child must be taught.

Leaders, by their inherent exuberance cannot but lead any group they are in. This very often puts them in a very challenging situation, as in an unknown group, they are either instantly liked or disliked. So they should always be careful in expressing their views in strange new groups.

As I very often tell all young parents, it is more difficult bring up intelligent children and children with special abilities. The parents have to be well balanced in their approach of nurturing and encouraging the special abilities of their children and teaching them to take life sportingly and courageously.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Recipe: Rasakalan

The word rasa in Tamil or Malayalam means "taste", so rasakalan means, a very tasty kalan. Kalan is a very famous curd based curry of Kerala, which is a must for all big functions, like marriage or festivals, like Onam.

This again is a special dish of my mother, who makes it even on a routine basis and she makes wonderful rasakalan. I have learnt it from her and I should say everybody who tasted the dish has loved it.

Now for the recipe. The below vegetables add a special taste to the dish. It can be prepared with only few of the vegetables mentioned, in case of non-availability. The raw mango and arvi (taro root) add special taste to the dish. In short, each vegetable imparts a unique taste to the dish and when all the tastes blend, it makes the dish, rasakalan.

Raw banana1 no.
Drumstick1 no.
Raw mango1 no.
Chena (elephant yam)100gms
Turmeric powder1 tsp
Salt to taste
Jaggerya small piece
Sour curds2 cups
Coconut1 cup
Green chillies4 nos.
Red chillies4 nos.
Methi seeds1 tsp.
Mustard seeds2 tsp.
Oil1 tbsp.
Curry leaves2 sprigs


Wash and cut all the vegetables into cubes. Cut drumsticks into 2" pieces. Cook the vegetables, adding turmeric powder, salt and jaggery, in 3 cups of water.(this can be done in a pressure cooker).

Meanwhile, heat ½ tsp oil and fry ½ tsp methi seeds and 2 red chillies. Grind the coconut with the fried methiseeds, red chillies, and green chillies, adding little curds, to a smooth paste.

When the vegetables are cooked, add the ground paste and beaten curds. Allow to boil once and remove from the stove and add one sprig of curry leaves.

Heat the remaining oil, add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start spluttering, add the remaining methi seeds, red chillies cut into small pieces and one sprig of curry leaves. When the methi seeds turn red in color remove from stove and add to the rasakalan.

Enjoy with boiled rice, idli, dosa or chappathi.