Cycling in Pondicherry

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There are certain memories in life which stay with you vivid and clear. You remember even the smallest details of the memory as distinctly as if it just happened. Oxford, UK was one such memory. I was hardly eleven at that time, but it still made an enormous impact. The majestic stone buildings with ivy climbing on to the walls, the mild chill in the air, people casually walking into cafes with satchels slung on their backs, neat tidy rows of houses which looked similar to each other,just as though they had stepped off the rack of a toy store, cobbled roads, and CYCLISTS.

In India, the only people whom I knew cycled were us school kids, and people who could not afford a better means of transport! That cycling would be a preferred vehicle of choice for professors, students who actually owned cars to ferry them back to their hometown and even really old people, was something I could not fathom.The way they locked their cycles with chains to the parking place oh so casually impressed me. And to know that they called their cycles “bikes”,a word, which in India meant a motor cycle, made it sound ever so cool!

We generally outgrow most of the fetishes of our childhood as we mature, or so I believe. My love for cycling was something which stubbornly but secretly stuck on. Secretly because, generally and practically speaking in most towns of cities in India, we do not encounter doctors or bank managers or teachers or chartered accountants whiz away on their cycles for work. I am not saying this as a snob. It is just reality. And staying right across from the place where I work takes away from me, the freedom to rebel against this cliche!  On occasion, I have also had his fear of being branded as a “weird” shrink(I do worry about my practice, you see) if I did go against the norm! I also do not live in a place like Bengaluru, where cycling in super stylish cycling gear complete with a helmet and radium piping, would be considered cool. I would be stared at on the road, as if I were a two headed alien who had suddenly landed on this earth!

Hence, sadly,my love for the bicycle remained in the closet for long into my adulthood. I would vow to myself that, when I went to Amsterdam, I would cycle to my hearts content( maybe, going to Amsterdam would be so expensive that I could only afford to cycle across!).

Till, I went to Pondicherry. It was surprising to see cycling still existed as a prominent means of transport for both the young and the old, saree wearing aunty to an expat!

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Even more exited to hear of a cycling tour of Pondicherry, offered by Sita Cultural center which is a one stop shop for everything you want to do.From scuba diving to bollywood dancing to cooking lessons, this hole in the wall, blue, building which I failed to find despite whizzing by it thrice, is a hub for all adventure.

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And so my adventure started at 6 in the morning with my guide Manisha and a cycle.

To start the day cycling into the small gullies of Pondicherry was not on my agenda when I went, but I really ended up enjoying my sojourn. Pondicherry is divided into a tamil quarter, a french quarter and a muslim quarter. I have no idea what the last quarter of the whole comprises of!Maybe the christian quarter(just to round off the national integration part).

And this is what I saw

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Large houses built in Chettinad style with embroidery like wooden  panels adorning them. These were houses of Soldas, the Muslim tamils who worked in the Portugese army. They were given a dual citizenship, based on which most of the descendants are now staying in Europe, and come only in the month of July for trading in spice. Rest of the time, the houses are restored and maintained as they were hundreds of years ago!

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That the buildings in Pondicherry are colour coded. For example, the Aurobindo institutes are grey in color, the Government buildings are yellow, the French buildings are orange and the like.

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For the film buffs,this is the house where the crew of “The life of Pi” stayed during the shoot.

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An artist’s depiction of how to make the best of waste! Made out of plastic bottles he found in the trash.He also apparently made a sculpture of a huge boat with people depicting how the city was saved during the tsunami.

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Courtyards with a beautiful mix of French style architecture and the very Indian rangoli blending smoothly with each other

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Temples on the roadside with fierce looking Goddesses, not yet open for the day’s prayers

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The beautiful sunrise, yet again.

Huge cathedrals, mosques and temples residing in harmony, with devotees quietly going about their business.

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A bakery with fresh morning produce.

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Fisherman's wharf.

I enjoyed myself so much, that ending the ride was saddening. But as the saying goes, "When you want something badly enough, the universe conspires to give it to you”, I discovered a cycling club back home.So despite the lack of coffee shops, designer gear and Victorian buildings,now, every weekend I relive the memories of my childhood, cycling early in the morning with the wind gushing on my face and drinking tea from the dhaba on the roadside. Fair enough deal, if I could say so!

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Are we parents killjoys??

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I remember reading “The battle hymn of a tiger mother” by Amy Chua, with mixed reactions and thoughts. The parenting methods described in the book seemed to me, quite harsh and rigid, with no thought whatsoever for the child’s needs, wants or attitudes. All that mattered was the parental opinion about what was good and what was not!

Last week,I had a difference of opinion(which is my label for a small tantrum) with my son regarding his badminton coaching. He was preparing hard for a tournament, and had just finished his written school tests. I knew he was worn out. But his coach had promised a practice session.

I am genuinely non pushy  in terms of achievements, but was desperate for him to go because I felt that the only way to reinforce his waning interest in badminton (after three years of practice sessions which weren’t leading to anything much)was to see other players and learn to be competitive.

Unfortunately, he did not feel so. He kept whining constantly that it was a Saturday, and he needed to read something and play football, that he would practice everyday thereafter, and why was the tournament on Children’s day(November 14th),one of  the fun days in his school and so on. And on. And on. Which finally got on my nerves.

And made me switch to my emotional blackmail mode. Of saying that if he was not interested , it would be better to quit rather than whine. And how I hated listening to his complaints after a hard day’s work. And we had given him so many opportunities,that so many other children did not have etc.

I caught myself. These were the exact things I advice parents coming to my consulting room not to do. And the path which I swore I would never ever take. And there I was, switching to autopilot blackmail parenting,  as soon as things did not go my way!

Parenting over the generations may have changed significantly, but there are certain things that have still remained the same.Especially, in Asian countries, parents still pride themselves in the achievements of their children, take credit for pushing them in the right direction and praise sparingly for fear of marring the motivation of the next achievement.  (Do read Arnab Ray’s(<http://greatbong.net/2015/08/25/desi-parents-and-their-expectations/&gt&gt; )

At the other end of the spectrum, are parents who believe that the sun rises and sets for the sole purpose of making their child rise and shine in this world. Their achievements are glorified, gilded and put out for display,making the kids paranoid about losing. Children who swing between this spectrum end up lost and confused.

Childhood memories of mine comprised of playing on the roadside, inventing a new past time for every summer holidays, and imaginative play when I would be a sari seller to bank manager to a film star-(all with the help of a battered yellow purse, a box full of tattered monopoly bank notes  and a pen).

But my children do not share the same freedom of time for free play. By the time they come back from school and their hobby classes, its time for homework, dinner, tv and bed. They no doubt play in school, but is that enough? I remembered reading a term called the “over scheduled child syndrome”, which pressurizes the child to over perform and kills its creativity.I did not want a tired child!

At the same time, as both my husband and I work and live in the heart of the city, we absolutely cannot let our kids loose on the roads without supervision. And the live in maid quits without a cable tv connection, so we cannot prevent excess tv time either.

So, how do I as a parent, make sure my child is well scheduled but not stressed, creative but not aimless and still retain my sanity. Seems like a tall order, doesn’t it!

Michael Thompson, a clinical psychologist and the author of “The Pressured Child,” says“As a general principle, there is a line between a highly enriched,interesting, growth-promoting childhood and an over scheduled childhood,” he said. “And nobody knows where that line is.”

And after reading up a lot about this, I came out consoled. The fact that there are other parents out there who face the same issues is comforting to an extent. And the summary of what I thought I could do goes like this:

  • As long as my children seemed mostly happy with their routine, it was fine to breathe easy.
  • For the unscheduled play time, we could find some time together without any specific aim in mind, and do fun things that they wanted.Like not using the bat and ball that we had carried to the park, but just sit and play a game of looking at the people around and guessing their profession!
  • I would make time to actually listen to them, rather than paying halfhearted attention while looking at my whatsapp messages.
  • They were capable of handling multiple hobby classes.But I wouldn’t expect them to excel in every class that they went to. It was plain unreasonable.
  • As long as the activities were not dipping into their sleep or eat time, it was ok.
  • The activities were meant to enrich their personality but determine their self worth. As in,it was wrong to say”You are only as good as the prizes that you get!”
  • Just like they needed down time without an agenda, so did I. And when these times met, to have fun doing something impromptu, like dancing Gangnam style!
  • It is sensible to start hobby classes only after a certain age (psychologists recommend 8 to 12 years). Before this, children tend to be in the process of growing interests and that the interests may keep changing,needlessly frustrating us. One day skating, the next month guitar, and as soon as you have bought the guitar, football begins to look interesting!No point in starting so early that you have unnecessary memorabilia scattered all over your house and fights about “You do not stick to anything” between you and your child!
  • So, though I did send my son over to badminton class that day, we made it up watching cartoons that night. And hopefully my son does not think of me as a tiger mother any more!