Morning encounters with noisy goblins

There are times when you are stuck between the devil and the deep sea. On a hot summer day this choice is easy to make. I would take the sea over the devil any day. Sipping a cool drink on beach while the waves of the sea gently lap at your heels,  is a much pleasant alternative to the red skinned, two horned devil pricking you with a pitchfork.

But the choice between pink goblins or noisy ones is a slightly more tricky one…sometimes even a non-choice, as you cannot really avoid any of them. You see, both of them invade into your early morning slumber. The slumber tastes especially sweet on a cold winter morning when it’s -10 degrees outside and just the thought of stepping down from the bed sends a chill down your bones. If you have a daughter, you are bound to run into the pink goblins sooner or later (famously elaborated in my last post). And if you live in Switzerland, then on every last school day of the year before the christmas holidays there is no escape from the noisy ones. Try what you may, they will track you down faster and more accurately than a heat seeking missile.

Switzerland and noise are like chalk and cheese … hardly to be spoken about in the same breath. Yet once a year at precisely 6 AM in the morning, the streets of practically every town in Switzerland turn into a cacophonous orgy of noise, clang and din. Rumor has it that Martians and other funny looking bug-eyed aliens routinely bypass earth on this day for the fear of their delicate spaceship controls being fried off by the high-pitched noises emerging from an otherwise calm alpine nation.

Some of you must be wondering what could the possible source of this noise be? Fret not, as you are not alone. Many theories have been put forward to explain this phenomena over the last few years. Some of the common misconceptions that typically do the rounds are as follows :

  • All the Swiss cows fart in unison on that day
  • The millions of cheese factories have their annual cheese cauldron cleaning day
  • A secret chip implanted in all the cuckoo clocks gets activated and they go off simultaneously
  • The funkily named subatomic particles have a head on colliding party inside the Large Hadron Collider
  • All the swiss watchmakers throwing down their delicate tools with a relief that over the upcoming holidays they will not have to work on those darned minuscule watch parts
  • All the bankers count their gold coins together trying to prove off that ‘My pile is higher than yours’

But as you have guessed by now, these theories as interesting as they may sound, are nowhere near the truth. The real reason that yours truly has discovered is as follows. On the last school day of the year before christmas holidays, the swiss school kids get a license to shock the hell out of poor souls peacefully slumbering in their beds. A typical street scene on that morning looks like this.

All the kids dress up in their warmest clothes, bring out the noisiest substance in their home (which is often themselves) and run to their school in the wee hours in the morning when all is still dark. There they are greeted by the teachers who wait for this day eagerly every year. On this day the teachers, who have suffered all year round at the hands of the kids, have the possibility to give it back to their parents, using their own kids as a means. Carl Jung called this syndrome ‘You oughtta know!‘. Alanis Morissette then famously plagiarized the words of his theory and conjured up a smash hit.

And smash and hit is what the kids have a license for that morning. The otherwise docile kids walk around all the streets banging away at their metallic instruments and screaming at the top of their voices. The louder they clang, the more appreciation they get from their teachers and other kids. The wackier the instruments they use the produce the sounds, the higher up the kids move up on the ‘Cool wall’. If you want to make it big on that day and be a star, old pots and pans banged together will not do. If your dad happens to be a heavy beer drinker or your mom an obsessive tomato sauce freak, the byproducts of their passion can come in very handy that morning as well.

Drunk on the motley sounds gleefully produced by their noisy orchestra, they march on. The procession continues till the time the kids either grow ravenously hungry or their instruments break or every single person in town is woken up and comes out begging and pleading for some peace and quiet. The kids are then rounded up by the teachers and led back to the schools for a hearty breakfast before they are unleashed on their parents for the rest of the vacation.

This tradition has been apparently going on for a few hundred years is lovingly called ‘Schulsilvester’. The intent being to welcome the new year and drive away the old one.  How far that is true is anyone’s guess, but the streets are surely a lively place to be on that morning.

Here’s to a smashing 2012 !

Morning encounters with pink goblins

Thursday and Friday mornings in the Luthra household are not for the faint-hearted. Compared to what the hapless dad has to go through on these two fateful days, Frodo’s journey across Mordor in the ‘Lord of the rings’ was a cakewalk. The invasion of Normandy beach was a stroll in the park. The ascent of Mt. Everest was easy as pie. History needs to be corrected. Each of these and many other similar feats are wrongly lauded as epic achievements, stories of success achieved against insurmountable odds. After I finish this post, I will get to work to correct the Wikipedia entries for each of these so-called achievements to set the record straight once and for all.

The real achievement that should be lauded is for a dad to get a 5 yr old beauty queen ready for kindergarten in the morning. I am not just talking about throwing on some clothes, a jacket, a pair of shoes, stuffing the snack box into a satchel and packing her off. No sir… we are dealing with the reincarnation of Kate moss here. (The perfectionist bean counters out there will immediately retort that Kate Moss is still alive – but they will be missing the point)

The ritual has to start the previous evening. A UN committee meeting is called before bedtime to scan the entire wardrobe and present at least 3 dress options to her highness. The choices need to possess the right mix of eclectic flamboyance, colour co-ordination and panache. You have to foresee the frame of mind that she might be the next morning and will the hues match the aura that will be surrounding her when she arises from her beauty sleep? And if any of your hapless proposals contain any shade of pink, blue, red, green, mauve, beige, purple that she might have touched in the last week – they will be shot down with a nonchalant wave of the hand. This will be carried out while she is focussed on the ‘5 minute princess tales’ and admiring the necklaces and scarves of Rapunzel, Ariel, Snow-white or any of the perfect princesses and mermaids sketched out in their full gleaming glory.

And if you are having a really bad day, one of the princesses’ sketches will be shown to you across the room and you will be asked to choose a skirt that is of the same colour as the Mulan’s bracelet. Mind you – you have to be quick. The picture will be shown to you for exactly 2 nanoseconds from across the room, at an awkward angle, while the book is being waved around. And you don’t get a second look. I guess 2 nanoseconds might be enough for Karl Lagerfeld or Coco Chanel, but certainly not for yours truly. Plus it does not help that the almighty decided to bestow upon me the gift of a slight case of color blindness which ensures the inability to distinguish between certain shades of red and green.

This lethal combination of fleeting image recognition misapprehension and genetic chromatic cognition disability leads to a blue skirt being produced for her highness’s inspection. But the demand was for a light purple one with a hint of mauve. The choice is shot down faster than Billy the kid’s ‘quick-draw, shoot’ ritual. Then comes a sigh – “Ok, I will choose it myself”. The cosy comfort of the bed fluffed with a hundred cushions is temporarily relinquished. The floor is blessed by the touch of her feet as she saunters across to the cupboard with feline grace. In a flash the correct  drawer is smoothly pulled out and the light purple skirt with a hint of mauve is delicately produced and a triumphant proclamation laced with a hint of slight exasperation is announced  “Papa, this was the one I wanted”.

The dad thanks his stars, gives a goodnight peck to the daughter, arranges the chosen clothes neatly, breathes a sigh of relief, turns off the light and walks out the room to join his wife in the living room. ……. But as he walks out, he cannot hear the faint laughter of a million little pink goblins that reside in the bottom shelf of her highness’ cupboard. “The real ordeal awaits him in the morning …. heh, heh, heh….”

The million pink goblins live in this …

pink goblins residing among a million frilly bands, hair clips and other indescribable things

Come the next morning, after the chosen clothes have been adorned, the next gauntlet in thrown. ‘Papa, can you pls choose the right hair clip/band that will match my dress?’

Gingerly, the bottom most drawer is opened by the dad. He stares into it like a hapless to-be victim staring into the eyes of shooting squad. As the dad reaches into this treasure trove containing a million frilly bands, hair clips and other indescribable things, the pink goblins living inside this drawer get to work. They take the matching hair band that will pass her highness’ approval and hide it right at the bottom of this bottomless pit. Try what he might, the dad cannot produce the correct accessory. The pink goblins feast on his helplessness and prolong his fruitless search by continually changing the hiding place of that perfect hair band.

Time ticks on…. the uber-punctual swiss train that dad is supposed to catch to his office thunders towards the station. Desperation starts to creep in and his pulse quickens. With one eye on the clock and the other eye on this bottomless accessory pit … he continues to struggle against the goblins. Because the veins near his temples that are now throbbing at full pressure, he cannot hear the laughter of the pink goblins which has now reached a crescendo. If he had a third eye behind his head, he would notice that her highness is busy browsing through ‘The tales of mermaid Ariel’ to choose the colour of her dress for tomorrow.

As point break approaches, he calls out for help. Her highness drops her book with a sigh, reaches into the accessory pit and in an instant pulls out a light pink frilly hairband adorned with purple and silver stars which will provide the perfect contrast to her skirt and jacket. Dad mutters a quick prayer to all the 27 million Indian gods and a handful of the western ones as well. The pink goblins have been defeated once again. They retreat to their frilly dungeons and plan for the next morning’s assault.

Dad and little Ms. Kate Moss emerge triumphant into to crisp winter air. The daughter, decked up in her full resplendent glory, sashays down the path to her kindergarten while the dad rushes along hoping to get to the station before the train gets there. All is well with the world again.

______________________________________________________________

Today was a thursday and battle was won. As I sit here and write this in the still of the night, I can hear the pink goblins whispering and plotting. I must now go to bed to ensure my energy is conserved, as another epic tussle awaits us in the morning……

Are you trying to be smart ?

Surely you have heard this phrase before. Most probably when you are trying to pull a fast one, aiming for those perfect last words to show how witty you are really are, trying to be arrogant, or ‘cool’ … or often when you have just a staggeringly stupid act. Usually when one hears these words, the irony is lost on most people. No you were not trying to be smart – you were just being yourself or you really had to prove a point. The reasons usually don’t matter.

But what if you were actually, really smart? And someone came and told you nonchalantly – ‘It’s ok to be smart!’ What would your reaction be – ‘Are you trying to be smart or are you just a plain old chauvinist?’ And is this comment driven by your jealousy because your grey cells aren’t really as grey as the one who you are trying to put down? (At least this is one situation where a shade of grey is better than being black and white) . Again … the reasons usually don’t matter.

But what matters is that there are millions kids out there who are being told this exact thing – ‘It’s ok to be smart!’ This phrase stopped me in my tracks. It was emblazoned in large friendly letters on an educational toy(called brain quest) that we had picked up for our kids during our summer vacation in USA.

Admittedly, it is a reasonably good educational aid with interesting questions, put together in an easily referenced and digestible format to build up the kids’ general knowledge. We have had fun with it and it has been handy on a few long road trips….. but what a way to advertise it! It’s like telling kids – don’t fret, it’s alright if you are more intelligent than the others. If you know more than your friends, no need to feel the odd one out. Your knowledge will not be considered unnatural. You are not a mutant or a nerd and you will not be persecuted. And to top it all, a picture of a small boy wearing large geeky glasses rounds up the message. The message is really complete.

Isn’t it the whole point of school – to learn, to experiment, to grow your knowledge? Talking to a an american friend, a ratification emerged. It seems like the general level of interest in real knowledge is indeed diminishing among a majority of school students. Kids who know more than others are usually made fun of and considered ‘nerds’. All kinds of euphemisms are drawn up and hurled at them. Regardless of this situation, it does seem a fairly convoluted way to promote intelligence and knowledge.

This holds universal truth that extraordinary ability usually stands out and is most often lauded, or in a minority of cases is scoffed at. (Just thinking of this brings Howard Roark from ‘The Fountainhead’ to mind). Imagine telling Einstein this – ‘It’s ok Albert, we don’t really mind you being so brainy. We know why your hair are always standing up. Just trying being quite when you are around people, and don’t think up answers to the scientific mysteries on a daily basis’ .

But the point is – ‘It is really ok to be Smart!’ … you don’t need to justify it or hide it. While we will continue to use ‘brian quest’, but every time I will pick it up in the future, this question will jump up at me again. And my answer will be .. ‘Oh really. thanks for the tip!’

From Hank to Hendrix

A bunch of 7 to 9 yr old kids learning to play cricket equated to a team of senior project managers working in a bank?  Musically speaking its like comparing Hank Williams, the great honky-tonk artist to the inimitable Jimmi Hendrix, arguably the greatest rocker of all – What can the two groups possibly have in common? Nothing much to the untrained eye, but perhaps a lot if you look from where i am standing. The reason i can say that with authority is that in a typical week i get through both these groups, the latter at work and the former in my role as the coach of the Under 9 cricket team at the Zurich Crickets.

So where do we start with the similarities, huh … ?

1. Getting them together in a place is next to impossible : Put 12 kids in an indoor gym at the beginning of coaching session on a Saturday morning, and you can’t even hear yourself think. You need to coax, beg, order, trick, sometimes all of these things at once – and you just might grab their attention. The team of project managers at the other hand have a slightly different set of issues – global conference calls, budget issues, tracking a 500 line item project plan etc. continue to have a have a higher priority. Discovering Atlantis is easier than having them sit down together whether for a coach-talk or a team meeting.

2. ‘Question everything’ is their shared motto : Either all project managers were under 9 cricketers once, or all the under 9s have a secret ambition to be a project manager. For every thing that you throw at them comes back to you at double speed disguised as an unanswerable question. Try answering this from a 7 yr old when explaining the best way to hit a straight drive “Why can I not use 3 bats together when I am batting?” or this a from a project manager when explaining the competition’s product offering “Why don’t we just buy them off, then we have nothing to worry about?“. Even Obama would not have an intelligent reply.

3. They are as multicultural as it gets : Both the teams consist of members from practically round the globe – South Africans, Germans, Italians, English, Australians, Swiss, Indians, Serbians, Israelis… you name it. I think only the Vatican is not represented.

4. Both continue to surprise & exasperate you : Surprises come in all shapes and sizes. Like the boy who just for the life of me cannot get the ball to pitch in line with the stumps, will suddenly come up and bowl a perfect in-swinging yorker leaving everyone flabbergasted. Or the perhaps the project manager who will have a ‘Eureka’ moment and manage to convince the stakeholder who has been resisting for ages, with a perfect argument that no one saw coming. In both cases you are left scratching your head in a mixture of admiration(wow! i didn’t know he/she could do that)  and exasperation (Why couldn’t he/she have done this earlier).

5. You continue to learn so much from them : Just the very fact that each of them is a personality in their own right complete with all the aspects that make us human, keeps you on your toes. The challenges they throw at you, the new perspectives they bring to age-old issues, their diligence to continue practicing their bowling at any spare time at home or working relentlessly to meet a deadline that is approaching like a steamroller – is enlightening. Every day/week offer you a little nugget of knowledge or experience that leaves you so much the richer.

Would one want to change a few things here and there, probably yes. But will the two groups remain the ‘originals’ if you did, probably not. So here’s to both the groups keeping their spirit and personalities.

… then why are they telling us?

why

“But dad … then why are they telling us?” said the 4 yr. old boy. An innocent remark, but a profoundly important one.

So let’s put this into context and start again. This remark was in a small story narrated by our very good Swiss/Greek couple friend over a cup of cappuccino, home-made plum schnapps and Greek candied fruit mixed with yoghurt.

Here is the setting: Last night, my friend and his 4 yr. old son are watching TV in their fantastic little house overlooking the best part of the Swiss Alps, and a news report about some extremely heavy snow in China comes on the TV.

Son – “Dad, Where is China?”

Dad – “Son, It is very, very far away from Switzerland – halfway around the world”

Son – “If it so far away, then why are they telling us about snowfall there?”

Dad – “mmmm…….” (No answer that will make sense to a 4 yr. old)

Now… think about this for a moment, for a 4 yr. old, it makes no difference whatsoever what happens in a place called China (at least not yet), why does he have to be told about snowfall there – there is more than enough of it in Switzerland!

And I cannot agree with him more, this is information overload of the highest order. Information is all around us today – beaming over fiber-optic cables, over satellites, TV, radio, internet, smartphones, signboards, newspapers, blogs (like this one J). Can we make sense of all this information? Does it make us any wiser? Are we just addicted to information, like an addiction to drugs? Do we have to check the online status of our friends every minute? The exact standing of our portfolio (which we convinced over selves is invested for the long run) over our iPhone while waiting at a traffic light? Do I have to watch a continuous coverage over Sky news of a ‘breaking story’ about a cat stuck in a tree in small town outside Ipswich? Nassim Nicholas Taleb said in his fantastic book Fooled by Randomness “I don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants… or parties. If a piece of information is important, it will find you – you don’t have to go looking for it!”

So next time you are told a galactically important piece of information that you could have lived without – put on the thinking hat of a 4 yr. old and ask the question – “Why are you telling me that?” … Say it clearly, but remember to say it nicely.

A little trickery and creativity goes a long way!

I have 2 kids, who possess many unique superpowers & (so-far) hidden skills that will undoubtedly make them world famous one day. One of these powers, however is less unique and shared with countless other 4 / 7 yr olds around the world. And that is their ability to sense anything remotely nutritious in their food and run a country mile.

So one day, being charged with the responsibility of feeding them a proper lunch, while my wifey was out gallivanting, I contemplated the dilemma at hand, and a logistical regression backed hypothesis testing led me to the following choices –

  1. The easy way: French fries and chicken nuggets, out of the freezer, into the oven, into their stomachs – job done!
  2. Calvin’s mom’s way:

    calvin and hobbes cartoon about food

  3. The last – most righteous and creative: So the following was conjured up

I and my son are currently obsessed with the fantastic newly acquired Cadence Amaya hybrid electrostatic speakers, and the daughter – surprisingly with cricket. So a quick dash to the fridge, some veggies are unearthed, the Victorinox knife is yielded in precisely controlled motions. Lo and behold – the best salad creations of the whole world are presented to the kids with all the pizzazz and style that rivals the best Parisian brasserie and were devoured in record speed.

salad for kids in shape of cadence amaya speakers original cadence amaya speakers

 

salad in shape of cricket stumps

So now that you know the trick to feed your kids right, exercise your brains to answer the following questions:


The Cat’s away and the Mice can play

The story goes somewhat like this …

It’s a golden autumn evening in a quaint Swiss sub-urban town. Cool crisp air rustles the dried leaves of fiery hues on their wafting journey from the branches down to the sidewalks, illuminated by the amber glow of a setting sun. An Indian family gets together in the evening to do Ganapati pooja (For my non-Indian friends – prayers offered to the Lord Ganesha), consume copius amounts of Lindt chocolates as prasad (sweet offerings after the prayers), and have a relaxed dinner of some lovely toop-bhat (a simple but heavenly combination of steamed rice and plain yellow lentils)….

…. now Mum has to go to her weekly ‘evening sewing club’ to mingle with her swiss friends & practice stitching cute things for kids on those wonderfully precise but hideously expensive swiss made sewing machines (the one that she uses in the club costs more than a goddamned Tata Nano for heaven’s sake!!). Promises are made to mum that kids will be tucked into bed after the evening ablutions. The kids wave cheery goodbyes. As we see mum’s car leave the driveway, Dad turns to to the two hapless kids who are now at his mercy and with an evil glint in his eyes, suggests an altogether different course of action – a far more exciting one than the boring routine of brushing their teeth, reading some cute storybooks and catching forty-winks.

Would the kids like to Rock ?? YEAH!  jump up both of them. Dad runs to the CD rack, reaches for ‘The Clash – London calling’, but Apollo’s providence intervenes and a far more eclectic choice dawns upon him – ‘The School of Rock soundtrack’ … The title track is cued up in the CD player, the volume on the sublime Audio Analogue Puccini amplifier is cranked up and soon the entire house is rocking to Jack Black leading a group of school kids screaming

… and if you wanna be the teacher’s pet,
Well baby you just better forget it,
Rock got no reason,
Rock got no rhyme,
You better get me to school on time ….”

 

The two kids are headbanging and having the time of their life, the otherwise quiet neighbourhood is shaking, the swiss neighbours have never experienced this before – they are ready to believe that all their cows are revolting & invading them with cheese bombs. The 4 yr old daughter thinks that dad is coolest thing on this earth after her cats, pink dresses, princesses, fairy wands and lip glosses!  The music reaches a crescendo and the song ends in a face melting, ear-drum shattering guitar solo……….. phew! the kids slump down breathless, their nerves tingling and eager for ‘The Who’ to kick-up the next track.

But suddenly, sanity prevails on dad, the music is flicked off… decorum must be maintained at all times, he says! The kids protest & beg for more headbanging, but it’s not going to be today. They are reluctantly led to complete the mundane brushing, changing, story reading, getting tucked in bed routine and kissed goodnight.

Mum comes back from her soiree, the house is quiet, the kids are peacefully sleeping (though still rocking in their dreams), she mentally blesses the dad for taking care of the kids so well, not knowing the real deal that has gone on behind her back … heh heh heh.

…yes, yes, yes –  i know. Kids need to be introduced to more cultured things like classical music, jazz, ballet etc. They get their regular dose of those things but a few minutes of pure unadulterated rocking never hurt anyone, did it!