Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Read to your kids!

My 3-yr old son, Tejas, is getting more and more fascinated with books - he loves to hear me read out stories from children's magazines and books. He can listen as long as I can read - and it is probably the only activity that can engage him for longer than, ahem, five minutes!

As he listens to more and more stories, it is amazing how his mind starts to bubble - perhaps with imaginary visuals of all that he hears. (I wish there was a monitor that could show how a child pictures the many scenes he listens about.) He asks questions aplenty, and gets into moods suiting the story. Eventually, within hours, the characters in the story come to life!

Tejas often comes and tells me things like:

"Amma, Santa Claus is sitting and playing with my toys in the room; I didn't disturb him as I want him to believe I'm a good boy!"

"Amma, the dog on the streets is troubling people a lot." Then, he picks up the phone and talks, "Little Krishna, please come and help us - a dog is troubling everybody. Dance on his head and throw him out!"

"Amma, I just saw a giant in the terrace; I am going to bundle him in a sack and throw him into the sky!"

While it evokes peals of laughter in me, after a while it registers as to what a great impact these stories are having on the kid - it is such a wonderful medium to teach life lessons - small and large. No wonder the moral tales such as Panchatantra, Jataka Tales and Aesop's Fables have remained popular since time immemorial.

Incidentally, a parent raised this point during the monthly meeting with Tejas' kindergarten teacher who said it is a common characteristic of KG children. She also mentioned that while narrating stories, we should try not to put a full-stop to it. Instead, narrate the story as just one incident in the life of the characters, so that the child is free to imagine what might have happened to them later and build on the plot.

However, she also warned that sometimes this imagination can be hard to swallow. For example, when a child gets hurt and you ask how it happened, she might give a dozen imaginary explanations: "A giant came behind me. I ran, he followed, I tripped on a stone and fell" or "I was climbing a mountain, and I slipped and fell down" or something like that, so much so that it is very difficult to get anywhere close to the real reason!

All said, if we can kindle a child's imagination with stories and other methods, it is probably the best give we can give him/her for the future!

Monday, September 03, 2012

Tam-Brahm Tomato Rice

There is a standard version of tomato rice, with onion, ginger, green chillies, spices, etc., which almost everybody makes. Here is a version followed by some communities in South India. It is delectable and spicy, and lasts much longer--so you can even pack it for a trip. Plus, it is sans onion and garlic, so OK on puja days as well.

Here is how to make it.


For tempering:
Til oil - 3 - 4 tbsp
Mustard - 1 tsp
Urad dal - 1 tsp
Chana dal - 1 tsp
Red chillies - 2
Asafoetida - 1/2 tsp

Fry in oil and powder coarsely:
Chana dal - 2 tbsp
Dhania (coriander) seeds - 3 tbsp
Red chillies - 4-6, according to taste

Other ingredients: 
Raw rice - 1 cup (clean and pressure cook it with three cups of water)
Curry leaves - a few sprigs, for garnishing
Salt, to taste


1. Clean and cook the rice, allow it to cool.
2. Fry the above-mentioned ingredients and powder coarsely - this is a standard 'masala' in Tamilian cooking, and can be used in curries, for making sambhar, etc.
3. Heat a little oil, add the mustard. Once it splatters, add all the remaining tempering ingredients, and roast till the dals are golden brown in colour.
4. Add the rice, salt and the powdered masala. Mix well with the tempering and remove from fire.
5. Add a little more til oil if the rice appears too dry. Garnish with curry leaves and serve warm.

This goes well with vadam or appalam and raita.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

An Interesting Electronics Learning Tool


I find this new electronics learning tool called littleBits quite interesting. It is for electronics what Lego is to mechanics... building blocks representing various electronics components that can be put together and pulled apart very easily. The components stick to the circuit board using little magnets, and so there is no pasting or soldering involved. Little kids can use littleBits to add lights and fans to their model houses, older ones can use the kit to understand how various gadgets work, while others can even use it to prototype their ideas.

You can call it a toy, or an innovation tool, depending on how you use it. In either case, it is quite interesting. They're on a small scale now, but hopefully a recent collaboration with a supply chain giant will ensure that it hits the markets in a big way.

I've written more about this at

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spintronics: Moving Closer to Reality

I did a story on Spintronics as far back as December 2006… Spintronics: Keeping the Computer’s Tryst with Quantum Physics…at which point of time, it was still a big idea with little implementation! There were some prototypes from IBM and Freescale but no large-scale implementation except for the iPod’s memory.

It was therefore good to see today’s news in EFY Times about the first electronic circuit that merges traditional inorganic semiconductors with organic spintronics.

Now, I really wish to see those dot-sized memory chips and power-saving, instant-boot computers!

Monday, April 11, 2011


I always used to wonder how the emotions related to fanfare emerge in a person, you know... the kind of craze that makes you obsessed with an actor, a movie, a character, a music band, whatever! I think it is kind of seeded in a person at a very early age. In fact, I am seeing such emotions surfacing in my two-year old son now!

He has become such a great fan of Thomas, the Tank Engine, that every time we switch on the television, he wants to see Thomas. He wants to keep wearing the same Thomas t-shirt everyday. He threw a tantrum at a superstore the other day to make us buy a Thomas toy. And, every time we boot the computer he insists that we play the Thomas & Friends theme song on YouTube. Just because we spun a tale about that t-shirt being infested with ants (to make him remove it for washing), he went about repeating the story very sadly to everybody he met! As in, he has become very fond of Thomas... he has become a FAN... at the age of two!

I remember by nephew was also in love with Thomas around the same age. I guess fanfare begins with cartoons... your favourite engine, your favorite character, your favourite super-hero, whatever. And I feel that this emotion strengthens either because others encourage or discourage it. For example, when Teju first started pointing to Thomas or saying things about it, we felt very happy (in superlative) and kept encouraging him to watch Thomas shows, speak about it... because we wanted to encourage his recognition of objects and his descriptive skills. As a result, he started to like Thomas even more.

In order to wean him away from the Thomas t-shirt, I started creating an excitement around the images in his other t-shirts as well... and when I told a story about a monkey or a bear or Mr. Bean, or whatever character was there in a t-shirt, he began to like that too and insisted on wearing that repeatedly for the next few days! Then, I would have to make up another story about another doggie or bunny or whatever was there in another bright t-shirt, to make him switch loyalties! As in, if you create an excitement around a character, children become fond of it.

But, well, despite condescending to wear other t-shirts and despite beginning to take a look at other characters, Teju continues to be an ardent fan of Thomas'... first love, I guess! He also likes Barney, Bob the Builder and Finley the Fire Engine, but not as much as he likes the cheeky Thomas! It makes me wonder again... what made him a 'fan'?

I also wonder what it is with Thomas! I haven't yet met a single kid who doesn't love Thomas. Why, I love Thomas too!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Madras onion rasam

Shallots (also known as Madras onions, small onions and sambhar onions) are very healthy. They are believed to have good cooling properties, ideal for the summer. In any case, I'm sure you will agree that they are extremely tasty! I agree they are very difficult to peel, but nowadays one can easily find peeled shallots at supermarkets.

Shallots are used quite liberally in Keralite and Tamilian cooking, especially in recipes originating around Coimbatore, Chettinad, etc. We would all have used shallots in sambhars and chutneys, but here is a rasam recipe I came across recently. It is extremely tasty, and seems to be a 'comfort food'... that is, it can be served to those who are unwell also, as it tastes very soothing and warm, and also helps cure common colds. Have it mixed with rice, or like a soup... it fits both roles!

Here is how to make it...

1. Soak a small lemon-sized ball of tamarind in a glass of water. Extract the pulp and keep aside.

2. Coarsely pound a little pepper, cumin and coriander seeds. You can vary the quantities of these according to your taste. Ideally, just pound them using a manual spice mill, else if using a mixer-grinder, just give it a twist or two... do not grind it finely as the whole texture and flavour will change.

3. Heat a tablespoon of ghee in a vessel, season mustard, asafoetida and two red chillies. Then, fry the coarsely powdered spices till a good aroma comes.

4. Add 5-6 shallots, halved. Saute till a good aroma comes.

5. Add one chopped tomato, the tamarind pulp and salt. Boil till the onions and tomatoes are soft.

6. Add 1 to 1-1/2 glasses of water (this depends how much the tamarind pulp has already reduced), simmer the stove and heat till the rasam starts foaming on top.

As a variation, you can dilute 1/2 cup of cooked and mashed tuar dal with 1 cup of water and add this to the rasam instead of plain water. This tastes better.)

7. Remove from fire, add one tablespoon of neem flowers fried in ghee.

8. Garnish with curry leaves and serve hot.

Alternatively, you can add shallots to any other rasam too, by cooking it along with the tomatoes or with the dal.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tell A Tiny Tale

I picked up a book called Peter Rabbit - Tell a Tiny Tale from the library last weekend, and found it extremely useful to tell tales to my toddler. A Penguin Group publication, this book uses characters from The Tales of Peter Rabbit authored by Beatrix Potter.

Each section takes one character such as, say, Peter Rabbit, and asks four simple questions related to that character, such as 'where does he live', 'what does he eat', 'whom does he play with', 'who chases him', etc. There are three pictorial answers to each question. You can mix-and-match these questions and answers and tell a story to your child. For example, you could say... "This morning, Peter Rabbit woke up early and got out of his home in the tree. He bathed at the pond and played with the duckies. Then, he went to grandpa's garden where he found some carrots to eat. The cat didn't like this and came chasing him. Just then, grandpa came out and saved Peter Rabbit from the cat."

In the process of entertaining and kindling the child's imagination, such an exercise actually peps up our grey cells too. It is amazing how many tiny tales you can make up with those simple questions and pictures! You are sure to recall (and thank) the mathematics teacher who taught you permutations and combinations in class 10!