Saturday, November 30, 2013

What color am I?


Cooking and eating traditional meals with family and friends is very special. I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving, This week I did not write anything profound to get the post out with "wise" words from my experience, instead, I wrote about a little conversation I had with someone, years ago, while watching a soccer game.

Most of the Indians have shades of tan in their skin tone, dark or light, depending on the melanin content. Some years ago a fellow-soccer-watcher asked me if I ever wanted to be white. I said, not really. She had a look of not believing me. She squinted and looked straight at me. I too looked back into her eyes and told her the following story. By the way, she was almost my color.

There is not truth in the following story, but it's fun to tell someone who questions you about your skin-tone. The story can be turned around to suit any color---white, black or tan.

Any skin color is the perfect color, since it is the color of your skin.


What color am I?

A long long time ago God created people. He didn't know how to make them. He baked them. The first batch that went in the oven, came out too light---he placed them in Europe, where the temperatures were cooler and the sun was a bit less hot.

God thought the temperature was not right. So he increased the temperature of his baking machine---the modern ovens with precise temperature control were not invented during that time. His next batch of people came out a bit dark. They were place in Africa where the sun was hot and there was lots of rain and lots of trees to shade them from the sun.

God thought, perhaps he should lower the temperature of the oven. I think by the third time, the temperature-control ovens were in the market. He baked one more batch of people. That third group came out of the oven with a perfect skin tone. They could tolerate the cold weather of Europe as well as the heat of Africa. He put them in a place where the climate in the north at the feet of the Himalayas, was very cold and the southern tip was very hot.

That place was called India and the people from India are Indians, with the perfect tan of their skin.

The End

© 2013, Meera Desai Shah

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Let's Make a Thanksgiving Tree


To learn to say "Thank You" for the favors, large or small, is a lesson in courtesy. It becomes a second nature to be aware of the help that other person offers, whether it's opening a door for you or helping you pick up the papers you accidentally scattered on the floor. The habit gets cultivated from childhood. It does not cost you anything!

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday celebrated in the USA. You can always Google the whys and whens of the holiday, I have a story about what a family can do before this day arrives.

Recently I read a story about, Michelle Cannon*, a mom who has a tradition in her house of writing Thank You's. No, these are not the notes they write when someone gives them a birthday gift. The family starts writing their thank you's on the first of November.

The twins in the story learn to write 'Thank You'.

*You may find more of Cannon's ideas at


Let's Make a Thanksgiving Tree

didi = older sister
bhaiya = brother
parallel = two lines/planes that keep the same distance between them without ever meeting

Seven-year-old, Suchi and Soori came home from school with their school bags stuffed with books and art projects-feathers, pictures, dream catchers that they made for Thanksgiving. They ate a snack and finished their homework. They wandered into their older sister, Sapna's room. 

Suchi said, "Didi, we are bored. There is nothing to do in the house."

Soori suggested, "Didi, why don't you tell Bhaiya to take us to the park?"

Eleven-year-old, Sapna looked up from her homework, "Are you kidding? Bhaiya and I have tons of homework. Have you guys finished your homework and finished whatever art work you had from school? Besides, boring people get bored. Find something to do please."

Suchi pouted, "We did all the art for Thanksgiving at school. We don't want to do it anymore."

Soori added, "We'll say the things we are thankful for at the Thanksgiving dinner." 

Suchi said, "Let's go back to our own room, we'll find something to do."

Soori asked, "Didi, will you play with us when you are done?"

Sapna said, "Sure." She continued to do her work. 

Suchi suggested that they go ask their brother, Sagar.

Soori curled her lips and said that they go back to their room. She stopped at their door, "Suchi, let's make a list of things for which we are thankful."

Suchi nodded, and walked by a pile of construction paper on her desk. She picked out different colored sheets and turned to Soori, "I got it. Let's make a tree."

Soori raised her eyebrows, "A tree?"

"Let's get a huge sheet of paper for drawing a tree."

The twins walked out of their room.

Sapna looked up, "Hey, now what is the daring duo planning?"

"We want a big sheet to draw a tree."

Sapna gave them a huge sheet, "I'm glad you found something to do on your own."

The twins said, "Yep. We'll show it to you when we are done."

Sapna smiled, "Okay." 

The twins went back to their room, Suchi took a brown crayon and drew two parallel lines from one end of the paper to the other.

"This is a tree." 

Soori said, "It doesn't at all look like a tree to me, looks more like a road."

"We'll draw branches and put leaves on them---these leaves will have Thank You's written on them." 

Soori clapped, "I got it. We'll have our Thanksgiving Tree. I have an idea, why don't we cut out a lot of colorful-Fall-leaves and keep them in a box. Then..."

Suchi added, "We'll get everyone in the family to write what they are thankful for on one leaf every day and glue it on the tree."

Soori completed her sister's thought, "So, when the Thanksgiving day comes, we'll have a Thanksgiving Tree!!!"

They gave a high-five to each other and started cutting colorful leaves for the Thanksgiving Tree. They wrote.

"I am thankful for getting this sheet and a crayon to draw."

"I am thankful for my sister who gave the idea for making this tree."

(In Fall, you can find a dry branch of a tree and hang the 'thank you' leaves on the "tree". Children can punch holes and learn to tie knots with yarn to acquire a skill that's gobbled up by Velcro)

Happy Thanksgiving!


© 2013, Meera Desai Shah

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Let Us Accept the New Ways


America, the USA is a country of immigrants. They came here to get more education, and then decided to stay, Often they come to the US as refugees. The immigrants say that they want their children to have better lives. At the back of their minds, they pine for the country they left behind. They want children to hold on to their, the parents' dream.

Recently, I read a story about a Somalian family which fled Somalia and settled in Norway. The parents talked about their Somalian roots with the children. Some years later the family made a trip to Somalia; except for the older child, the rest of the children aborted their Somalia trip to return to the comforts of their home in Norway.

The first generation immigrants stay connected with their country of birth as well as with the country they adopted.

In my last post a reader reminded me that descent and heritage are different---yes, sir, I stand corrected.

After writing this post, I thought of Britain, France, Portugal and other countries who went into other countries for economic as well s political gains and then stayed on. Talking about India, the British left behind their language, the railways, the postal system and the parliamentary system, lots of monuments and history. I wondered, if the British who were born in India but went back to their ancestral country, Britain, ever pine for India? Well, they took Chai and spices, a few words of Indian languages, a taste for Indian foods, and a lot of immigrants to their country. The English have made movies with Indian themes and actors. India remains a place to visit to rekindle memories.


Let Us Accept the New Ways

unison = together
diya = lamp with a wick that is dipped in oil 

Seven-year-old twins, Suchi and Soori changed into their pajamas and talked about their day.

Suchi said, "It was fun to take part in the Indian play at the India Society's function."

"Yep, did you hear the claps we received after the skit ended?"

Suchi agreed, "People liked our play."

Soori went under her warm covers, "They better like out stuff, they were all the parents." 

Suchi sat on the bed by Soori's feet, "Are you tired of all the Diwali stuff we have been doing?"

Throwing the covers off, Soori sat up, "I am Diwali-ed out." 

Both the girls burst into laughter.

They heard a knock on their door, Suchi rushed back to her bed, the twins slipped under covers. They looked at the door as it slowly opened.

Their older sister, eleven-year-old, Sapna peeked in, "Hey twins, what's the joke?"

Suchi sat up in the bed, "Didi, we are Diwali-ed out."

Soori joined her, "That's right, we want to be Americans."

Sapna said, "True, we are all Americans with Indian descent."

"With an Indian Heritage."

"Nope, heritage is of things, remember?" 

Sapna smiled, "Now you know two new words, heritage and descent, cool."

Suchi said, "Yeah, but Soori made a new word, we are Diwali-ed out."

"Are we going to do more Diwali stuff, Didi?"

Sapna sat on Soori's bed, "No Soori, not until next year." 

Suchi plopped down on the same bed, "Wheeeee--let's all celebrate by jumping on Soori's bed." She saw the frowns on Sapna and Soori's faces, "I guess, that's a bad idea." She sat by Sapna on the same bed. 

Fifteen-year-old, Sagar heard the commotion, "Hey, girls, what are you cooking now?"

"No cooking, this is not a kitchen."

Sapna said, "Suchi, he wants to know what are we discussing?"

Sagar pulled a chair by the bed, "What's going on? Mom and Dad have gone out, I am in charge, don't make any trouble for me or yourselves."

"The twins are Diwali-ed out."

Sagar counted on his fingers, "Diwali-ed out, huh? Let's see what did we do, we had the Lakshmi pujan-we prayed for the ability to use money wisely, we saw an Indian uncle start a new book of accounts, we lighted fire crackers, we lighted diyas to spread light everywhere, that's the light of knowledge, we had more fire crackers and loads of sweets, to celebrate a Diwali-party with our friends, we had a skit about one of the stories from the Hindu mythology and---"

Suchi and Soori said in unison, "Enough. We are Diwali-ed out."

Sagar said, "I agree, I am too."

Soori said, "Let's do something American."

Sagar said, "Girls, we do these things to learn about some of the Indian ways."

Suchi said, "But we live in America."

"True. It's always a good idea to learn about where the parents came form.""

Sapna said, "Okay, girls, let's be Americans. Halloween comes in three days. Have you thought of your costumes?"

"I want to be a pirate."

"I will be a witch." 

Sagar said, "I'll wear suit and wear my glasses to be a professor."

Sapna said, "Hmm..I am already thinking about Thanksgiving."


© 2013, Meera Desai Shah

Saturday, November 9, 2013

I am an Indian


You probably know that I was born in India, but I have spent more than half my life in the USA. The children I taught in a school, did not know that. They could tell that I was not white and I was not black, but never questioned me about from where I was.

In school, I introduced the country of my birth when we traveled around the world and made a trip to India. We went to India in an airplane---we arranged the chairs in rows and columns, had a pilot on the intercom and flight attendants telling us to fasten our seat belts, also gave us snacks. In those days, airlines offered passengers free snacks. I explained the concept of how long it took me to get there by discussing the number of meals and naps I took on the plane, all in one seat that was assigned to me before I took the flight.

The children wanted to know why I was called an Indian!

This story is about Indians from India.


I am an Indian

bhaiya = brother (Hindi)
heritage = things that are passed on from one generation to the next

It was early November, Suchi and Soori, the eight-year-old twins came home upset by what had happened in their class at school. 

Suchi complained, "Mom, you said we were Indians but Tommy said, I was telling a lie."

Soori inquired, "Mom, aren't we Indians, you said we were Indians, you told the truth, didn't you?"

Mom told them that they were Indians just like their didi, Sapna and Bhaiya, Sagar. And that even their parents and grand parents were Indians. 

Sixteen-year-old Sagar looked up from his book and met his younger sister, 12-year-old Sapna's eyes. He mouthed the words, "Skit?"

Sapna shook her head and pointed to a pile of books, mouthed, "Home work."

Sagar shrugged and called out, "Hey, Suchi-Soori, I can tell you something about our being Indians."

Suchi-Soori ran to Sagar and pulled two little chairs to sit by him. They munched on the snacks from the snack-plate in their laps. Sagar told them to hold their horses for a couple of minutes and he trotted off to his room. He carried back a huge globe on a stand and placed it between the twins. 

Sagar said, "Okay, guys, do you remember the names of the seven continents you memorized when you went to sleep every night?"

Suchi swallowed a bite, "Do you want us to recite them?"

Soori chimed in, "We can show you all the countries and those continents on the globe if you wish."

Sagar said, "That..."

Suchi interrupted, "We can even tell you all the capitals of those countries. Sapna didi made us learn those also."

Sagar said, "GUYS, LISTEN. I don't want to know the names of the countries or their capitals. Please be quiet and answer only when it's your turn."

The twins acted out zipping their mouths and kept quiet. They continued to eat their snack.

Sagar smiled, "Okay, then. Tell me, what exactly happened in school that made you so upset?"

Soori said, "Tommy said that we don't wear feathers in our hair and don't ride horses to school, so we can't be Indians. But mom says we are Indians."

Sagar said, "He's right, and mom is also right. Tommy was talking about the Native Americans, we used to call them Indians. Now we see them riding horses and wearing feathers only in movies and in some parades, maybe. Some of them live in special areas called Reservations."

Suchi and Soori spoke together, "But Tommy..."

Sagar raised his hand in a 'stop' gesture, "Let me tell you a funny incident that happened in mom's class. Once a Native American came to talk with the kids in her school. When mom told him she was also an Indian, he wanted to know the name of her tribe. She told him that she was the Indian that Columbus was looking for, instead, found him."

"Columbus was looking for Mom! Why?" 

Sagar didn't have a good answer, "Never mind about Columbus." He called out, " Sapna, can you help here?"

Sapna shrugged with a smile and said, "Nope, you opened a can of worms, you deal with them."

Sagar pursed his lips, pointed to the globe and said, "Well, Suchi-Soori, a long-long time ago all the continents were closer together, do you remember the Himalayas story? Perhaps due to earthquakes, the continents drifted apart, and so the people who lived on those continents, drifted apart too."

Suchi said, "I got it, Columbus was looking for mom when the continents fell apart."

Soori wondered, "Was it her fault that the continents fell apart or his?"

Sagar continued, "Uh, kiddos, the continents DRIFTED apart. Remember, Columbus was NOT looking for mom, he was looking for India. By some error, he ended up on the shores of North America. When he saw the Native Americans with their tanned skin, he thought he was in India and called them Indians." 

Soori said, "So, because of their color, he called them Indians?"

"That's right, we are darker than the whites, but often lighter than the African Americans."


Sapna jumped into the conversation from her chair, "Twins, you've taken enough of Bhaiya's time, I need his help with my homework. There's another story about people's color, we'll tell it to you at some other time." 

The next moment, Sagar was up on his feet, "Thanks, Sapna, I'd love to help you with your homework." With ten brisk steps, he reached Sapna and picked up one of her books.

Suchi and Soori dragged the Globe to Sagar and asked, "Why did you bring this out of your room?" 

"Oh, that was just to show you the continents and countries, nothing special."

"Oh, we know all the continents and countries." Smiling, the twins dragged the globe back closer to their chairs and started pointing at different  places. 

Mom came by and sat with them. She said, "Suchi-Soori, you know that we, your parents, came to the US from India for education and then stayed here for jobs, got married and then you came along. We still have relatives in India whom we call over the phone, and visit every few years."

"But why are we called Indians?"

"People who are from India, are called Indians."

"Then, we are Indians?"

Mom said, "You are Americans, born in the US and carry a US passport, but you are of an Indian descent."

"Do we have an Indian Heritage?"

"Nope, heritage is of valued things, buildings, from the previous generation."


"We are of an Indian descent, our parents and grand parents and many before them lived in India. Girls, except for the Native Americans, all the people in the US have migrated from different parts of the world. Some came over two hundred years ago, some may have come yesterday!" 

Sushi said, "But we did not migrate from anywhere, we were born right here."

Soori added, "Yep, we are Americans of Indian descent."

Suchi said to Soori, "That was a lot of history, but why is India called India?"

Soori shrugged.

Sapna joined them, "That word came from another word, the Indus Valley. It's a name given by the Western historians. And, the word, Indus comes from---"

Soori said, "Too much information, we got it, Indus valley people are Indians."

Sapna said, "Okay, but do you know why America is called America?"

"Uh---" The twins shrugged.

Sapna said, "It is named after an Italian navigator, Amerigo Vespucci. Seven years after Columbus landed, Amerigo realized that Columbus did not land in India but it was a new continent!"

Soori said, "That's cool. He finds a new land and gives it his own name."

Sagar said, "Not true. It was a German clergyman and a geographer who suggested the name America and people liked it."

Suchi said, "That's too much information. We're done here. Let's play."

The twins put their snack-plates in the sink and played with the globe a little longer. Later they dragged the globe back to their brother's room. When they returned to the kitchen, the older siblings had gone to another room to do their homework. The twins went to their mom and asked, "Why are we so tan, mom?"

The End

© 2013, Meera Desai Shah

Friday, November 1, 2013

Some thoughts on Comments


I am going ahead with my blog today since I may not have time to do it over the weekend.

Last week I postponed today's blog-post, and published "Weavy...".

Here are some thoughts on the comments I received.

It delighted me to hear from you about my posts. The story about the Himalayas was going to a child's school. I wonder what happened---Did he read the story to the class? Did the teacher read it? Did they discuss how mountains come up? What, what, what....?

Another reader made a comment about choices.

I derive my answers from my teaching, observing and dealing with children---my own as well as many more; this is how I handled some situations.

I'd say that you, as an adult, have to make a choice of what is acceptable and what is not, to you, in your house, in your child's school, in your society, and in your world in general. There are rules for each segment. You can not make a choice of driving your car on the wrong side of the road. In good conscience, you make a choice of recycling to lessen the trash for the coming generations to clean. These are easy choices that a child makes from observing the adults and learning from them.

You give your child two crayons- a red one and a green one. He wants a blue crayon. Is there a blue crayon available? He likes neither. Well, he needs to make a choice, from what you have, red or green!

A child wants to eat his dessert before dinner. Do you give him a choice---What do you really want, ice cream or dinner? You, the parent, have a choice---give in to the child's demand or feed him first? I hope you choose the second one and offer him his dinner. He shoves it away, you give it back. He throws it on the floor. You pick it up and trash it, "Sorry, I had to throw away your food, we don't eat things that fall on the floor (the five second rule is a myth). You can sit at the dining table or do your home work/sulk, if you wish." The child screams for ice cream. You tell him, "It was for dessert and since you did not eat your dinner, you get no dessert. I'd be happy to share my dinner with you, would you like that?" If the child declines the dinner, you eat yours at the table, quietly and let him be at the table.

It is said that no child or an animal ever goes hungry if there is food around. I suggest, keep an extra serving of dinner handy, perhaps a slice of cheese with bread.

It's your patience against his.

After a whole day's tedious work, you have no patience for this. You'd rather give in to him and let him have ice cream. Easy, isn't it?

At that point, be an adult and ask yourself, is this a wise choice?

To continue with our crayon story, "If you don't use the green or the red crayon, you can't color. We don't have a blue one, perhaps you can find another activity."

If your child doesn't want do his homework--- he may have to stay extra at school, do more homework or he may be sent home, but you won't be home, staying outside the house is not be a good idea. Staying at a friend's house is not appreciated by the friend's parents nor by you and going alone to a mall or anywhere else is dangerous for a child....many scenarios.

So, it's your choice--- homework or no homework?

Freedom without limits is anarchy. Giving choices without being aware of the consequences is no better. The adults in a child's environment have to show the child right from wrong by examples and stories.

Adults do not make a choice for children but arm them with the knowledge of the consequences of their actions.

That's it for this week. Next week, I'll have a story about Indians---the people from India.


© 2013, Meera Desai Shah