Sunday, May 31, 2015

Short story: The Blue Ribbon

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we often might win, by fearing to attempt.”  William Shakespeare

Ali Noor stared at the students in the parade ground with a hungry look in his eyes. It was a clear, sunny day and the rehearsals for the Annual Sports Day were in full swing. All his school-mates were busy marching on the field, their footsteps perfectly matching the beat of the drum. 

Some were rehearsing acrobatics while others were practising relay and sack racing. The parade leaders were twirling their batons while the Sports Teacher supervised the practice session. Each student was trying his utmost to display his strength and agility. The whole place was abuzz with noise, colour and excitement.

Ali Noor sat alone under an old tree. Every fibre of his being wanted to be on that sports field, running and marching and proudly raising the red and gold school banner but a tragic reality prevented him from doing so. Ali Noor had been paralysed in his infancy by polio. He belonged to the tribal areas and had not been vaccinated.

When he was five years old, polio had struck and left his left leg useless. His father, a wealthy carpet dealer had left no stones unturned for his son’s health but to no avail. Extensive physiotherapy had given him some use of his lower limbs but Ali Noor would never regain full mobility. 

Later, his father decided to shift to Islamabad and Ali Noor was enrolled in a new school. He was a quiet, studious boy but a bit of a loner. He did not want to be pitied or get involved in students’ activities so he shunned all friendships and liked to be alone dreaming of all the things that he could not do.  

Just then, something landed at his feet with a thud, snapping him out of his reverie. He looked down at the black and white football near his well-polished shoes. He wanted to kick hard at it to vent out his frustration but as usual his left leg refused to act. Ali Noor heard running footsteps and swallowed his tears of bitterness. He looked up and saw Zaheer, captain of the school sports team who had come to retrieve his football. 

“Hello Ali. How ya doing?” Zaheer asked cheerfully. Unlike Ali Noor, his shoes and pants were covered with dust and grass stains marred his white and gray uniform.

“It must be tough for you, sitting here all alone.” Zaheer added conversationally.

Bitter words sprung up in Ali’s throat. He knew that Zaheer had not meant to be unkind but his words hurt nonetheless. He looked at Zaheer with resentment, tinged with envy. Zaheer was tall, athletic and extremely well built. If seeing him run after the ball during school hours was not enough, Ali Noor had to bear the sight of him playing every evening as well. 

They lived across the street from each other. Every evening, while Ali Noor was bent over his books, he heard Zaheer and his friends playing cricket or dribbling the football on the concrete road outside. This was usually accompanied by shouts of joy, laughter and high-fives. Ali Noor would draw his curtains in an attempt to block out the sight of these boys enjoying themselves but the sound of running footsteps would continue to torment him. 

“What would you know about what’s tough for me, Zaheer?” he asked bitterly. 

Zaheer’s smile faded when he saw Ali Noor’s stony face. Ali’s hostile gaze had made him uncomfortable. He was a good natured boy who made friends easily. He was highly revered by his coach and class-mates for his athleticism but this attention had not made him vain. 

He did not know how to respond to Ali’s blatant antagonism so he shrugged and tucked his football under his arm. He turned to race back toward his team-mates but something made him check. He was struck by the anguished look in Ali’s eyes. He came back towards Ali and looked down at his crippled class-mate.

“Listen, Ali,” he said earnestly. ”Would you like to compete in a race?”

Ali Noor’s face darkened with anger. He felt sure that Zaheer was making fun of his disability. 

“Yes, Zaheer,” he replied sarcastically.” Maybe we should have a wheelchair race and I’ll be the only participant and we’ll see who runs the fastest.”

“I did not mean to hurt your feelings, Ali,” Zaheer added gently.” We are having a three-legged race. If you agree to be my partner, you’ll be able to participate in the sports day with the rest of the school. I’ll talk to the coach.”

Zaheer’s words left Ali speechless. He was suddenly ashamed of his outburst. 

“It’s not possible, Zaheer. I’ll slow you down and you’ll lose the race.”

“Maybe. But maybe I’ll win a friend, instead.” 

Ali Noor’s head was suddenly filled with visions of him running alongside the school’s sports captain. He wanted to run, to feel the wind on his face and to feel that rush of adrenalin. He imagined himself racing towards the finish line, faster than anyone else……

The coach’s shrill whistle brought him down to the earth. He looked down at his leg encased in a metal and wood brace, deformed and shrunken. He let out a half-laugh, half-sob sound.

“No, Zaheer. As I said, it’s not possible. Other students will either pity me or mock my efforts and I can’t face that.”

As Zaheer tried to convince him, Ali Noor gathered his crutches and turning his back on Zaheer, walked away.

Later in the evening Ali sat in front of the TV, flipping channels morosely.  The door-bell chimed and a few seconds later, his mother led in Zaheer.

“Come on, champ. At least give it a try.” Zaheer bent down and forced Ali Noor to stand up 

Ignoring Ali’s protests, Zaheer firmly led him outside. It was dinner time and the street was deserted. Ali Noor tried to extricate himself from Zaheer’s clutches once again.

“Go on, son. At least give it a try.” It was his mother’s gentle voice that made Ali straighten up his shoulders.

“Oh all right then. Whatever you say,” he capitulated

Zaheer tied Ali Noor’s left leg to his right leg. With their arms around each others shoulders, they tried to run a three legged race. It was extremely slow going. Ali’s movements were slow and awkward and he kept tripping over. 

“It’s no use, Zaheer. Maybe you should find a new partner,” Ali panted. 

But Zaheer would not let him quit. Next evening and every evening after that, the two of them practiced under the light of the street-lamps. Gradually, their movements became more coordinated and their friendship grew.  While Ali learned to appreciate Zaheer’s “never-say-die” attitude, Zaheer too learned to value all those simple things which he had always taken for granted…. the ability to run, jump and dribble and kick a ball. 

Finally, the Sports Day arrived. Ali Noor was extremely nervous. He looked at the spectators’ pavilion which was filled to its capacity. His own parents were also there.  As the commentator announced the start of the three-legged race, the students took their positions at the starting line. Ali Noor’s anxiety gave way to pure dread and panic. He looked at the blue ribbon stretched across the finishing line and it seemed miles and miles away. He imagined himself sprawled on the sports field and all the people laughing and jeering at him.

“I can’t do it, Zaheer. I am sorry.” He turned away but Zaheer grasped his arm firmly.

“Listen, Ali. Sports isn't about running fast or jumping high. It is about team spirit and giving your best when the chips are down. Right now your team needs you and if you quit, I’ll have to forfeit too.”

Ali looked up to where his parents were sitting. More than anything else, today he wanted to make his parents proud. He unclenched his hands and gave a thumbs-up to Zaheer. The whistle blew and they all set off. Ali saw the contestants on his right tumble and fall in a comical heap. People applauded and cheered them. 

The contestants to his left were also having a difficult time synchronizing their hops. Filled with a sudden feeling of exhilaration, Ali grasped Zaheer’s shoulders even more firmly and they propelled each other forward. Faster and faster, they hopped till the blue ribbon loomed ahead. Ali stretched his hand forward and to his delight, they were the first one to cross the line. 

The whole school stood up to applause his remarkable feat. Ali and Zaheer embraced each other as their team-mates surrounded them, slapping their backs and hugging them.  Ali Noor saw his father on his feet clapping hard, unashamed tears of joy rolling down his cheeks. His mother too looked at him with pride and love. 

“Thanks Zaheer,” Ali wanted to say more but words eluded him.

“No sweat, champ. Maybe you should train for the sprint race now,” Zaheer joked.

Ali grinned and took his crutches from the assistant coach. He had learnt to laugh at his disability and not wallow in self-pity. 

After all, isn't life all about overcoming the disadvantages and surmounting the setbacks? What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?

Let's Make A Difference: A short story

“There is no happiness except in the realization that we have accomplished something.” Henry Ford 

Ibraheem sat alone in his classroom with an open book in front of him. It was recess time and all the other children were outside. He heard their chatter and the thump-thump of a basketball being dribbled in the playground. Then a shrill whistle from their sports teacher pierced the air as he tried to line up the boys. But Ibraheem’s mind was on the poem they had just read in the Urdu class. 

The poem was about little raindrops. Each raindrop feared that it was too small and insignificant to bring any relief to the dry, parched earth. They all hesitated while man and beast suffered alike under the scorching sun. But their leader told them that if they all fall together, they could ease the suffering and bring respite to the people. When the raindrops fell together, the sun-baked earth rejoiced and the people celebrated Allah’s bounty 

Ibraheem’s mind reflected upon this story and an idea began to evolve in his mind. His pencil beat a steady staccato against his desktop till the ringing of the bell signalled that the recess was over. He hastily ate his lunch and gulped down a mouthful of water as there was an onrush of footsteps. The boys came in and Ibraheem hastily brushed away the crumbs from his shirt and got ready for the next class. He was ready to put his idea to test.

The next class was Social Studies. Their teacher, Sir Imtiaz was a young, idealistic person. In their last session, he had asked the students to come up with ideas for their social work project. Such projects were initiated and funded by the school to create social welfare awareness in the students.

“So, does anyone have any ideas that would bring about a positive change in lives of people around you? 

As Ibraheem hesitated, Saad’s hand shot up in the air. The students groaned in unison. Saad was the class clown and his suggestion was sure to be an outrageous one.

“Yes, Saad. Let’s hear your idea.” 

“Well Sir, I think it would be a great idea if our school remained open for only a couple of days per week. It is such a simple idea and would surely bring happiness to many of the students,” Saad suggested a little cheekily.

Amongst the laughter and the applause that followed, Sir Imtiaz said gravely, “I will forward this idea to the principal with your compliments, Saad.” 

As Saad’s cheeky grin faded away, he added a little kindly “Let’s hear some more suggestions“

Sir Imtiaz looked at his class. A few of the students yawned and looked bored. Some looked at each other for inspiration while others had a vacant expression on their faces. Slowly, Ibraheem’s hand went up.

“Yes Ibraheem. What do you have to say?” Sir Imtiaz asked.

“Sir, there is a vacant plot of land at the end of Jauhar Lane. It was once a park but now it is abandoned and in terrible shape. I think, that if we all work together, we can restore that land into a children’s park…..”

His words were greeted with a chorus of dissent and protests.

“Are you crazy?” objected Hassan. “That ground is being used as a dumping area for trash and rubbish for years.”

“My father says it is a haven for drug addicts at night,” added Sohail.

“”What about all the muck and slime? How do you propose we clean that up, Ibraheem?” Ali asked sarcastically.

“Boys, boys,” Sir Imtiaz intervened. ”Let us at least hear what Ibraheem has to say.”

“I know that the plot is in a terrible shape. That is why we will try to clean it up. Instead of being a breeding place for flies and mosquitoes or a sanctuary for drug addicts, it will be a clean and fun place for the children,” Ibraheem added a little diffidently.

“I think it is a perfect project for our Social Work Week. But how do you propose to go about it?” asked Sir Imtiaz

“Well, Sir, if we all work together, we can clean the debris. Saad’s father owns a plants’ nursery. If his men help us to cultivate the grass and plant a few trees, we’ll have a nice park in no time. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy,”

“If the broken fence is fixed and painted, it can provide a secure boundary,” Haider piped in.

“We can ask Ghulam Ali to build a few see-saws and swings,” added Fawad. ”We’ll all help.”

Ghulam Ali was the school handyman. He repaired the broken desks and chairs, mended windows broken by sailing cricket balls and prepared the backdrop sets for their school‘s Annual Drama. He was an extremely skilled craftsman and could make anything out of wood.

All the boys sat up and looked extremely excited. They started discussing the project in earnest and in no time they had evolved a clear strategy. Lists of jobs were prepared and all duties were relegated according to interest and aptitude.
The students were given one week off from studies. 

Next day, they arrived in old, plain clothes and the school bus took them to the vacant plot. It was littered with old newspapers, discarded shoes and clothes, cans, broken bottles, cigarette butts, pieces of junk and a few syringes. The boys donned protective gloves and overalls and attacked the debris with gusto. They used brooms and rakes to collect the trash and put them in huge trash bags. There were a few groans and grumbles but on the whole everyone was rather enthusiastic. Most students were happy to be outdoors instead of pouring over boring school books. 

Five hours later, they had got rid of some of the worst debris. They boarded their bus and went back tired but satisfied. Next day, Saad’s father sent some of his expert gardeners to help the boys. First they mowed the wild, overgrown grass. Then they raked and weeded the land and spread a new layer of fertile soil. They pruned the existing hedges and planted some new rose bushes. Pesticides were sprayed where needed and some decaying plants were completely uprooted. Everybody worked hand in hand and an amazing change could already be seen as the land transformed before their very eyes. 

Meanwhile a group of students worked under Ghulam Ali’s guidance to mend the fence and set up the swings. Others cleaned the green and slimy fountain in the centre of the park. Their efforts paid off when a smooth, white structure emerged. 

People from nearby apartments came out to see what was happening. They were amazed by what they saw. Where there was once filth and rubbish, now there was a vast expanse of freshly mowed land with neatly trimmed hedges. The newly painted bright green fence gleamed in the sunlight. The tree bases were also painted white with a little red border to give a neat and orderly appearance. 

Like little raindrops that quenched the thirst of the burning earth, the boys worked in unison to provide the children of the area with better and safer playing facilities. At the end of the week, the park was opened for public. All the students received medals for their hard work and efforts but their best reward was the laughter and shouts of joy of little children as they scampered about in their new park.

Children's Classics for Summer Holidays

Mark Twain once said “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.”  While books by Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl and J.K Rowling are extremely enjoyable and a lot of fun to read, a good classic is something that makes you think about life, its challenges and the courage and determination of its characters in tackling difficult situations.

Many famous writers have written some wonderful classics for children. They are delightful to read and the best time to do so is during the long summer vacations. If the thought of reading an unabridged classic is too daunting, why not choose the shorter version by publishers like Oxford Progressive Readers or Illustrated Classic Editions and get to know those timeless heroes and heroines who live within the pages of these great books.

Let’s take a look at some of the most wonderful classics ever written for children.

King Solomon’s Mines, by H. Rider Haggard

Famous hunter and explorer Allen Quatermain does not want any more adventures but then he meets Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good. Soon the three of them are on a dangerous journey into the heart of Africa in search of King Solomon mines. They are captured by the fierce Kukuana tribesmen and taken to the terrible one-eyed King Twala. They participate in a battle to help the right king back on his throne but can they defeat the evil witch Gagool and find the diamonds hidden in the King Solomon Mines? 

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This is a wonderful tale of three young children, Mary Lennox, Colin and Dickon who due to their friendship and courage manage to overcome their troubles and sorrows. Mary is initially sullen and lonely, while Colin is a bed-ridden cripple until they come to know about a secret garden whose key has been lost. In their quest to find the key to the garden door and bring it back to life, the children find the key to their own happiness.

Heidi, by Johanna Spyri

In this much loved classic tale, we get to meet a little Swiss girl called Heidi who is very devoted to her simple mountain home. Her life changes when she is sent to live with a rich family in Frankfurt as a companion for a sick girl, Clara. The city life does not suit her and she is extremely unhappy. Heidi longs to go back to her gruff old grandfather, the Alps and the goats. Clara comes to visit her but what happens when Peter spitefully sends her wheelchair crashing down the mountains? Well, you’ll have to read the book to discover the end.

Around the World in 80 Days, by Jules Verne

This wonderful book tells the story of Phileas Fogg, an English gentleman who makes a fantastic trip around the world as a bet. He has to complete his journey within 80 days or he will lose all his wealth. With his French servant Passepartout, he travels around the world on train, steamboats and elephants. He is pursued by a detective who mistakes him for a notorious criminal and is determined to catch him. You will know whether Phileas Fogg wins his bet or loses everything when you read this funny, timeless classic.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis

Consisting of not one book but seven, this masterpiece series is considered a must read for children all over the world. Four children step through a wardrobe door in a huge country house and reach the magical land of Narnia where animals can talk and a wise lion, Aslan rules all the beasts.  There are grand battles between good and evil and many adventures and journeys which are chronicled in this magical series. The books are sure to keep you occupied and out of trouble all summer!

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This is a heart-warming riches-to-rags-to riches story of Sara Crew, an intelligent and kind-hearted girl whose father leaves her in a boarding school in London. When the snobbish headmistress discovers that Sarah’s father has died penniless, she makes Sara a servant in the same school. But how does the little princess behave in her new circumstances, you will know only when you read this book.

Treasure Island, by R. L. Stevenson

This book brings you the blue seas, bloodthirsty pirates, treasure maps marked with an X and hidden sea-chests containing unimaginable wealth and of course, the unforgettable character of Long John Silver. Treasure Island is a wonderful tale featuring the exciting adventures of young Jim Hawkins who finds a treasure map and outsmarts a gang of mutinous pirates to bring the treasure home.

The Hobbit, By J. R. R. Tolkien

In a quest to win a portion of treasure guarded by an evil dragon, Bilbo the hobbit makes an adventurous journey into unknown territories. If you are a fan of fantasy and make-believe worlds, then read ‘The Hobbit’ to meet a wide variety of magical creatures like the hobbits, wizards, elves, man-eating trolls, evil goblins, giant spiders and of course dragons. 

Some other classics that you might enjoy are The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, Woman in White and The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, Kidnapped by R. L. Stevenson, and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

So during these summer holidays curl up with these classic tales and explore the wonderful worlds they take you to. What will make the experience even better is that after reading the book, try to watch their movie adaptations and decide whether you enjoy the book more or the movie. Don’t forget the popcorns!

Happy Reading!!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Battling Clutter

Having a clutter free home with one or more energetic kids in the house might seem like an impossible task. As soon as you are done cleaning one corner of the house, two more seem to be clamouring for attention. Babies, toddlers, pre-teens or teens, it does not matter what age group your kids belong to, their scattered belongings can drive you up the wall if you do not have a firm plan on how to counter it.

Sometimes we like to console ourselves with the adage that where there are kids, there’s bound to be some mess. However, research has shown that a cluttered house can have a very negative impact on your mood and health. It makes you feel tired, lethargic and quarrelsome especially if you cannot locate socks, school shoes or important papers buried underneath the mess. And just imagine the horror of unexpected guests walking in through the door with your children’s belongings scattered all over the house!!

Choose toys carefully:

One of the cardinal rules for having a clean house is to have fewer toys for young children. We shower our kids with toys, most of which end up broken, discarded and scattered all over the house. Mechanical and battery controlled toys are the worst offenders.  If your child has too many toys, divide them in half and put one half away. After a month or so, round up the current lot, store it and take out the other half. Choose toys carefully. Balls, bicycles, stuffed toys, building blocks and hard books have a greater shelf life than remote controlled cars and video games which become junk without cells and other easily breakable parts.

Keep things out of reach:

Toys belong to children but this does not mean that they should access to all their playthings 24/7. If clutter drives you crazy, think about putting jigsaw puzzles, bead sets and 1000 piece Lego out of reach of your kids or you’ll spend endless hours picking them up. Put such things in a place from where only you can hand them out.  Designate a play area and place a mat or sheet there. After they are done playing, just gather the sheet from its corners and pour the little pieces in their container.
A place for everything and everything in its place:

Most of the clutter in the house arises from the fact that there is not enough space or containers to store the things in the house. Buy multipurpose colorful baskets or chest of drawers for your children’s toys, games, art supplies, etc. Once in place, teach the children gradually to put away all their stuff after they are done playing. If things are spilling out of cupboards and containers, sort them out for storage or donation.   

Clean up between activities:

This is one of the most difficult but necessary habits to inculcate in kids. Between every two activities, there should be a 5-10 minute break in which children put away their things. For example, after getting ready each morning and before leaving for school, older children must learn to put away their night clothes and breakfast dishes. Similarly, after doing homework and before watching TV, there should be some allotted time, in which they put away their school bags and books before settling down to watch their favourite programme. 

Think before you buy:

Most of us usually buy far many more things than we need. Whether it is shoes, clothes, DVDs, accessories, decoration items, kitchen utensils, we sometimes forget to draw a line and the result is often a cluttered house. This tendency becomes more pronounced during sale seasons if we have kids. Before going on a shopping frenzy, think carefully, if you really need all those “buy one get one free” items.

Pick up things as you go: 

One sure way of keeping the house clean is to pick up things as you go and keep putting them back in their places. Straighten cushions, stack books and clear table surfaces as you go from one room to another to have a spic and span hose all the time. It might seem irksome at first but once it becomes a habit, the house starts looking habitually clean and tidy. It becomes even better when children start to copy your ways and start picking up their stuff without you having to point it out.
Clean a corner everyday:

We all know how quickly things pile up in our closets, cupboards and shelves. Shoes that are no longer needed, clothes that are outgrown, faded bed sheets, threadbare towels, broken toys and hordes of other things which eat up space in our homes. For a house to be really clean and organized, it is important to clear away such debris on a regular basis. Each day, spend some time to clean away one corner of your house, no matter how small.

Keep 2-3 cardboard boxes in the store and keep filling them with things that are not in use any longer. Kids’ booties, caps and rattles that they have outgrown, old books, your daughter’s T-shirt which she has vowed never to wear, your son’s broken toys – all these things can be collected out of sight and then sorted for storage or charity making your house less cluttered. Your sanity and prestige might depend upon it!!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Treasure Chest

Deep beneath the blue waters
Dwells an old sunken ship
In it lies a treasure chest
Greed and avarice at its best

Glinting silver coins aplenty,
Gold bars and a necklace pearly
Some diamond pins and a ruby ring
And a glittering crown fit for a king

An ivory fan and sapphire bracelets
Jeweled cups and emerald anklets
Heap upon heap, mound upon mound
There it lies, waiting to be found

The chest took lives of men depraved
And the treasure lies in a wet, muddy grave

Friday, May 22, 2015

An Ode to Socks

My mum bought me a pair of socks
With tiny circles and mighty blocks

Pink and purple, blue and white
They were quite a pretty sight

My feet were cold, my toes were numb
Not wearing socks sure was dumb.

I put them on and they were snug
I gave my mum a very big hug.

And on my feet, they were kept

I wore them even while I slept

They are brown, once they were pink.
They were clean but now they stink.

Now all I need is a new pair of socks.
With tiny circles and mighty blocks

Pink and purple, blue and white
Won’t they be a pretty sight?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

16 Tips To Help You Prepare For Motherhood

Motherhood is a great blessing but it always manages to catch you unprepared. No matter how much you read about it or get information from family members, friends, doctors and media, there is something about the real experience that is slightly surreal and at times bizarre.

Failure to plan means planning to fail and you cannot embrace an important role like motherhood without a lot of practice. So whether you are about to become a new mom or there is going to be another addition to the family, here’s what you should do:

Once a week, collect at least three children… you can borrow them from your neighbours or conscript nephews and nieces for this purpose…. and go shopping for grocery with them. Learn to glare, scold and discipline them while ignoring the amused looks from other shoppers. 

Forget what words like being ‘clean’ and ‘sweet smelling’ mean.  Get in the habit of having milk, custard, yoghurt, mashed banana, cerelac and egg yolk being burped, dribbled, spitted and vomited upon you. And remember that is just one end of the baby working.

Practice fishing out keys, toys and your favourite make up items from toilet seats. Learn not to cry or complain. 

Watch ‘Dora the Explorer’, ‘Blue’s Clues,’ ‘Ben 10’ and Jimmy Neutron all day long. If you get bored, you can watch ‘Baby’s Day Out’ and ‘Home Alone’ but nothing else. 

Learn to convey your meaning within 15 seconds…whether it is gossiping with a friend, having a conversation with your husband or scolding the maid, 15 seconds or less is all the time that you have.

Watch only first quarter of any television drama, movie or show and learn to be satisfied with that. Or watch only the end and train yourself never to wonder about the beginning.

Learn to judge a book or magazine by its cover. You won’t have time to read it.

Know that a tiny head moving from left to right and right to left means NO and whatever you say, think or want is of NO consequence!

Know where the bathroom is located in every restaurant and departmental store in your vicinity. 

Learn to dash from shops to parking lots and back. Practice jumping queues and insisting on being served first. Better buy the stop watches that Olympic athletes use to time themselves. You have no idea how useful this practice will prove to be.

Get used to the horror of leaving your purse behind as you come out with the baby or else it might be the horror of leaving your baby behind as you come out with the purse…. 

Learn to eat meals at a supersonic speed. 

Practice driving maniacally from the beauty parlour to home with just one eyebrow or half upper lip done. It will help you once you get frantic calls from home only to find that the baby is fast asleep in the crib. While you are at it, get used to looking like some zombie character out of the movie Scream 3 all the time.

Remember that your colicky baby can generate as much noise and debate as Hurricane Katrina and Typhoon Belinda on Fox News and BBC channel combined.

Train yourself not to look at clocks and watches because your house will be run on baby schedule. It will always be the time to bath, feed, burp, rock, change diaper and put baby to bed only to be followed by the time to bath, feed, burp, rock, change diaper and put baby to bed all over again in an endless cycle.

Know that in your children’s eyes your views will be archaic, your education outdated and your outlook antiquated, but they still expect you to come up with a solution to their every problem.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Get Set before You Go

The arrival of a new baby is always a matter of great happiness….and one has to admit, a great deal of added housework and responsibilities too. In spite of its small size, the bundle of joy in your arms can increase your workload manifold and occupy a great deal of space in terms of baby clothes, baby products and whatnot.

Whether you are about to give birth for the first time or the fourth, there are a few basic things that you should tackle beforehand. Many women suffer from depression, stress and post-natal blues because they are not physically and mentally prepared to cope with all the added housework. Of course the hormones do not help either.

Give your house a thorough cleaning

You might not consider it a priority but cleaning the house from top to bottom is one of the best things expectant mothers can do before giving birth. In between the second and third trimester, go over each room of your house critically and get rid of all debris and clutter. 

If carpets, curtains and other linen need to be washed, get this done too. Clean out your freezer, fridge, bathroom cabinets and bedside drawers. After the delivery, you might be too busy, too sleep deprived or too worn out to take care of dusty fans or hanging cobwebs. Beside they are not good for the baby’s health.

Create space for baby’s things

Have at least a couple of drawers for baby’s things in a place of easy access. If you are buying new stuff, prepare a list and do your shopping beforehand. Baby clothes, pampers/diapers, shampoo, soap, soft towels and sheets for the baby can all be bought prior to the delivery and should be kept separate from other household linen. If you are using the things which your older children have outgrown, wash and air them thoroughly and put them away neatly in the drawers. Re-arrange your furniture to accommodate the baby’s cot, pram, high-chair etc.

Prepare children for the new arrival

If you have young children, prepare them mentally for the new addition to the family. If you have to leave them with grandparents, aunts or friends while you are in the hospital, talk to them about it as well. It can be very scary for young children if they are suddenly ‘deserted’ by their mother and father and one of the main reasons for sibling rivalry. Also make sure you have help lined up in case of an emergency or an early delivery. You must have someone to call and take care of your children on a moment’s notice.

Fill up freezers, refrigerators and pantry:

Cooking a meal for the entire family will be the last thing you have time for in the early newborn days. Plan ahead and stock the freezer with foods that can be easily thawed and served like kebabs, haleem, chicken stock for rice and soups, and ready-to-cook frozen products.  

If you do the grocery shopping yourself, buy things with longer shelf-life in bulk so that you do not have to run to the market every time you run out of tea, jam, cereals, detergents, sugar, rice etc. Plan ahead for at least four months. Between frequent breastfeeding, nappy changing and other household chores, shopping for everyday things can be quite a burden.

Where there’s a baby, there will be guests. While no-one expects you to prepare gourmet meals for all the well wishers that drop in, common courtesy demands that you entertain your guests with some goodies on the tea-trolley. Again planning and shopping ahead will come to your rescue. 

Get your hospital stuff ready:

Another important thing is to get your hospital bags ready by your eighth month. It is better to use two small bags… one for your baby and other for yourself …rather than one big one which contains everything. This will give you more privacy as the baby’s stuff gets handled by everyone from the hospital staff to nurses to relatives.

Remember to pack a few personal items, such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, a hairbrush, undergarments, change of clothing, comfortable shoes and your own soap and shampoo. There is no need to look and smell like a zombie just because you have given birth. 

Put in your favorite lipstick, other essential cosmetic items and a light fragrance too. It is also prudent to pack your own towels. It is best not to wear any gold jewellery, expensive watches etc. to the hospital so take off any gold rings, locket and bangles that you habitually wear by your ninth month. 

For the baby, you will need at least three sets of clothes, bibs, diapers, wrapping sheets for summer or a blanket if it’s winter, baby pacifier and a feeding bottle.  Baby soap, shampoo and soft towels are also necessary. Pack this stuff and keep the bags in an easy to access place by your ninth month. 

The birth of a child can be one of the most important and scariest times in a woman’s life. Being well prepared and having tackled all the important things before the baby’s birth will make you more calm and ready to embrace motherhood. 

Taste of Hunger: A Poem

Have you ever tasted hunger?
Have you ever been its prey?
Do you know what it means
When hunger comes to stay?

A little loan from a shark
Brought misery upon us all
Every day he would come
Push a little and watch us fall

“The money you pay is not enough!
Your farm and crops, goats and cattle
All mine as your debt remains.”
In silence, the village saw the losing battle

One day he took it all and threw us out
As our village watched behind curtains tattered
Evil triumphed when compassion failed
Cruelty laughed as humanity shattered

We have been hungry for many a days.
Or weeks or months or perhaps some years
Can no one heed our pleas for help?
Does no one care, does no one hear?

Stars Beyond Number

Just using your eyes
On a clear, dark night
Look up at the skies
To find a wondrous sight

Stars beyond number,
Making patterns gay
Helping weary travellers,
Go along their way

Their black, velvety cushion
Stretched across the horizon
Like little drops of diamonds
They glitter and glisten

Pegasus and Perseus,
North Star and Leo
Libra and Aquarius,
Hydra and Scorpio

All major constellations
Moving across the sky
Looking at the stargazers
As they play I Spy.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Have Teeth Like Pearls

Are you going to eat that red, juicy apple? 

Yes! Take a bite with your strong, white teeth and munch, crunch and chew till it is broken into small pieces, making it easy for you to swallow and digest it. 

Have you ever wondered about your teeth and the important role they play in your life?

Healthy teeth and gums are important for our overall health, eating, swallowing, smiling and even talking. Come on, let us take a look at your teeth and see if you are taking good care of them.

Enemy Attack

Bacteria are our teeth’s number one enemy but only when we keep the defences down. So you can say that actually it is our bad habits and poor food choices that are our teeth’s biggest enemy. Let us take a look at some of the most common teeth problems that we face.


When we eat, the bacteria in our mouth produce a sticky substance called plaque which covers our tooth enamel. If this plaque is not removed regularly by proper brushing, it coats our teeth. The acids then start to eat away the enamel and small holes called cavities begin to form.

Just like a drill which makes holes in wooden planks, the plaque keeps on eroding the enamel and the cavities get bigger and bigger till they reach the pulp where all the nerves are situated. You can get a massive toothache when that happens.


Halitosis means bad breath. It can be a very embarrassing problem that also arises from bad dental hygiene. There can be many reasons for bad breath but the most common and easily preventable reason is left over food particles in your mouth that are left to decompose and cause bad smell.

Yellow teeth:

If you have yellow or discoloured teeth, you might not want to say “cheese” when your school photograph is being taken. Yellow teeth are caused when you do not brush your teeth properly or not long enough. Some drinks like tea, coffee, colas and candies with food colours can also give you discoloured teeth.

How to keep your teeth healthy

  • To keep your teeth healthy, you must practice good oral habits. These habits are:
  • Brush your teeth twice a day....first thing in the morning and before going to sleep at night.
  • Brush the teeth after eating sweets, toffees, lollipops etc. or at least rinse your mouth thoroughly with water.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid snacking on sugary food stuffs and fizzy drinks that are harmful for the teeth

How to brush your teeth?

The best way to brush your teeth is in continuous circular motions till you clean every tooth in your mouth from the gum line to the biting edge of the teeth. Also brush up and down, rather than from side to side. Be extra careful of reaching your molars at the back. We often neglect to clean them because we are in a hurry to get ready for school or go to bed at night.

Dentists recommend that you should clean your teeth for at least 2 minutes. You can time yourself with a stopwatch or sing a song that is two minutes long while brushing. Brush your teeth gently and do not scrub them too hard or you might hurt your gums.

You do not need to use a great quantity of toothpaste every time you brush your teeth. Use a pea-size quantity but brush your teeth thoroughly. Also rinse your mouth afterwards to get all the residue out.  Gargle at the end to get rid of bacteria lurking at the back of your mouth.

Taking care of your tooth brush

It is equally important to take care of your tooth brush because it is the thing that does the cleaning in your mouth. If your tooth brush is dirty and germ-ridden, it can cause a lot of health problems for you. Use a tooth brush with gentle bristles and replace it every 3 months.

Do not leave your toothbrush lying around in the bathroom or on the floor. Try to buy those toothbrushes that come with caps. Clean the tooth brush with running water every time you use it and place the cap especially at night so that cockroaches do not spend the night in them.

Good Food for Strong Teeth:

Calcium and Vitamin D are essential for strong teeth and bones. Almonds, dairy products (milk, yoghurt, and cheese), apples, carrots, strawberries, citrus fruits and leafy green vegetables are good sources of important nutrients that keep your teeth and gums healthy. Also remember to drink plenty of water as it cleanses the mouth and helps to wash away trapped food particles.

Take good care of your pearly whites. They are worth it!!

Say MaShaAllah Laa Quwata Illa Billah

After Alhamdulillah, the second phrase which I feel we should all start using frequently is MaShaAllah Laa Quwata Illa billah (Surah Kah...