Posted in Women & Family

Breastfeeding Awareness.

World Breastfeeding Awareness Week is observed from August 1st monday until today August 6th. Stepped into government’s Children’s Hospital ICH, Egmore (Neonatal) (Institute for Child Health & Hospital For Children) for the very first time in my life where the newborns are housed along with the pre-terms (pre-matured) fighting to make it the big world outside, from their incubators hooked to beeping machines. Young mothers nurse their babies as expectant mothers wait for their delivery. The entire place is buzzling with activity and the corridors are thronged by women of all ages. Yet in the chaos, there seems to be some orderliness. For, I never expected a state run hospital to be so good and efficient and clean. But I should have. I have after all in my younger years gone for procedures at Health centers that were neat and hygienic. And their services were FREE. My house-help delivered her pre-term baby boy here in Egmore hospital where he was well cared for, and having made it successfully to the world from the incubator, he is now working for an IT company. He is the first time graduate of his entire family. This is one family having benefited from government subsidies. People question about reservations and subsidies. I don’t because, I see all the time how the concessions have helped transform and build lives. Before I proceed any more, I have to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude for the serving medical professional who mooted the breastfeeding awareness campaign as well as the nursing stuff for nurturing young lives and rekindling hopes in mothers with their babies in incubators.

What is positivity, what is it about making others REAL happy. You only have to step into places like these to know what is life all about. Everytime a baby from the incubator makes it to the real world the nursing staff dance. And that is the dance. Everytime a breastmilk donor gets the milk bank a sachet for a baby in distress, the staff sing and whistle welcoming the literally large hearted and generous mother for her very noblest charity.

Most mothers feel low even after they become grandmothers should they not have breastfed their babies to the best of their ability. I met mothers who shared this sentiment in their 50s and 60s sounding as though they had delivered just a week or month earlier! Their anguish at not having fed their babies to their heart’s content still makes them feel guilty. I do share such an emotion myself for having been a working mom in the 1990s when we did not have breast pumps at least in India. So when women returned to work, breast milk would end up getting emptied into the ladies room washstand. On the other hand some mothers simply did not produce enough lactation. Their babies were on formula feed within a month.

Working conditions are a lot improved in the private sector these days with prolonged maternity leave of upto one year on loss of pay basis to encourage breastfeeding and boost mother-newborn bond. Corporates in last ten years allow women stepping out twice a day for an hour to breast feed their babies.

One of the physicians who took to the dias explained how even having guests could distress the babies and affect the oxytocin produced by the mother which went a long way in helping produce lactation. Stress is an important factor that hampers lactation in mothers. Human psychology and emotions affected our harmones. The bond that must be established between the mother and the newborn gets disturbed and delayed. This was cited as one scientific reason for low level or lack of lactation in some women.

The celebration today was about felicitating mothers who donated their extra milk to the milk bank in the city. This comes to the rescue of mothers not lactating sufficiently or to those babies in the incubators who cannot be formula-fed. I have heard of milk banks earlier but to be seeing real donors and interacting with young mothers and learning of the facilities proved to be very informative and educative. I was toying whether to write about this biological phenomenon about women or miss it. I decided to go for it because, the motive of the campaign is first to spread the word. And we must do it by all means. Some of us women represented NGOs and we gave away nutritional food hampers to new mothers that can aid in lactation.

The nursing staff were very enlightening and entertaining at the same time. In my school days a girl named Ruksana would perform Villuppaattu but today the sisters of the hospital did just that informing the crowds how to save milk and make it fit and usable for other newborns in need. This could save many young lives.

This wonderful young mother of a 4.5 month old baby boy told us that she has so far donated over 30 liters of human milk to the milk bank in the hospital. We gave her a standing ovation. Her target is 100 liters. And she is an IAS officer. She said, the cooperation of the spouses, the parents of the mother and the in-laws have a role to play in enabling women to come forward for donating milk. Milk bank is not strange and breast milk donation is not taboo. Like blood donation, human milk donation goes towards saving and nurturing lives. Just the way the blood rejuvenates within hours of donation in the case of the blood donor, the breast milk too is rejuvenated as easily. There is no loss of milk or drop in lactation for the donor’s baby. That’s the point. Breast pumps are available to milk in the extra milk. There are NGOs who run flying squads to collect the milk in time (which means immediately), run a battery of tests to rule out contamination, then preserve it (or freeze it) so that the milk can be warmed for use when necessary. They literally call it the ‘thanga dravam’ (golden liquid) in Tamil. I can’t find a better word for mother’s milk.

I understand that in chillier weather, breast milk can be stored at room temperature for two to four hours. My own granddaughter was fed the milk pumped from breast from two to six months. In tropical climate like India’s, quicker refrigeration is necessary and the shelf life of the milk is extremely limited. Milk collection also takes time given the traffic. So that is where the flying squad NGOs step in. Their tagline is ‘step up breastfeeding’ and they go out of the way to procure milk from mothers to make it available to needy babies. Really just listening to their awesome service shook me to the roots. Most of these good samaritans are actually men!

There are nobler ways to grow as an individual, evolve into a better human and make people happier bringing them peace. We can gift fellow humans LIFE. The potential to fulfil these divine aspirations is there is every one of us.

About fifteen young mothers were felicitated for their timely breastmilk donation to the milk bank that helps sustain young lives. The mothers came from all backgrounds: from working girls to housewives and blue collar workers. Interestingly they were accompanied by their husbands who they said, did n’t mind staying awake in the night hours to pump the breast milk, to sterilize the feeding bottles, to store/freeze the milk for donation or sometimes even deliver at the milk bank in the hospital. India needs men of this kind.

The director who spoke underscored the importance of breastfeeding. Colostrum or the first breastmilk of mothers is very vital for babies as it contains valuable nutrients that can give the newborns immense immunity. The babies’ physical and mental health (IQ) improves. Breastfeeding babies at least three to six months keeping out the formula feed is a must. Donor mothers and the medicos and the nursing staff said one thing in unison: that there is nothing called NO-LACTATION. They said it is knack to get lactation and the mothers must be primed right from pregnancy as to how to not be tempted to go in for formula at the drop of the hat. The secret lay in persistence, never giving up.

As mothers, as grandmothers it is our duty to spread the news about breast milk donation and the breastmilk bank. The Milk bank is operational at ICH in the last nine years. It is now procuring close to four hundred liters of milk which is a very healthy figure. It goes a long way in feeding pre-term babies fighting for their survival in the warmth of the incubators. And other newborns whose mothers are not able to lactate for various reasons.

I am here talking about the milk bank with ICH only. No idea on private maternity homes. I understand that the obstetricians are in a convincing position to affirm to the donor mothers on the importance of breastmilk donation. Finally it all boiled upto them. Is there anything Chennai does not have? Blood banks, Sperm banks, Milk banks and Placenta or Umbilical Cord banks. Yet if anything has a dearth of donors, it is the milk bank.

Quality time. I have to thank my club for giving me exposure to hitherto unexplored grounds. Even as a mother and grandmother I needed to know better. Its not just about charity, its about our mindset. I have been personally involved in some private charities, but working in tandem with a group is another level. This way we come across altogether new aspects of life and needs for assistance. We can tap into genuine and worthy causes,

Really impressed with the Dean who spoke without batting his eyelid on breastfeeding. Kudos. He was to the point. Never made us women squirm. On the other hand I felt most respectful towards him. He has been delivering in detail on breastfeeding for a week now. Women feel comfortable with him. It is good to be told that a woman’s breasts are the ‘Akshaya Patra’ for newborns and the more you give, the more the mothers lactate. The milk never depletes or recedes just like, lighting a thousand diyas from a single diya (lamp) will not kill the flame or glow from the donor diya. You cannot explain milk donation better.

My ladies have no qualms about talking openly about breast milk and sharing their very private motherhood stories in public. I understand what openness really means. What maturity of a society is all about. And how there are REAL avenues to work on with people and help them in their lives if we truly care. MISSION BREASTFEEDING. May every mother pitch in so that our babies stay off formula feed for at least upto their first birthday.

Posted in Mylapore Musings

My simple stateboard school teachers taught us life lessons.

I have so much time today (as always :D). As my friends brought out the memories of my standard 8 and 9 class teachers who I just adored in my school days, I want to write about them here today.

Teachers are special to me naturally as my mom was one and my aunt too.

In class 8, Mrs. KN Indra was my class teacher. In standard IX it was MA Padmavathy who we called MAP for short. Both were residents of Mylapore.

KN Indra miss lived in the other side of my street. She used to sport a big namam in her forehead. She was widowed young with two children. Her son was my age. Her husband was killed in a scooter accident. I knew as much because she did her teacher training with my aunt before joining my school as teacher. So my mother and my aunt were friends with her.

KN Indra miss used to be very soft. Even if we girls would scream in class, she would get upset and punish herself. Like there would be tears in her eyes. She would never shout at us. Classes 7, 8 and 9 are very hard for teachers to handle. For class 7, I had Santhalakshmi miss as class teacher who taught us both English and Maths. True to her name she was such a ‘shanthaswaroopini.’ Again my mother and aunt were friends with her. My mom knew most of my middle school teachers as they all attended my school, were alumna of my school and they continued to live in Mylapore, with some joining their alma mater as secondary grade teachers. It was only my mother who opted to teach speech and hearing impaired girls. She was handpicked for it by her Mother Superior in a Santhome teachers’ training school. She thought it was her calling.

One of my memories from class 7 is that of my mom coming straight to my school to attend Open day. Our school had class 6 and 7 in an annexe building called ‘Sudharma’ that was opposite my school. That building became the first casualty in commercializing of my school when a CBSE school started functioning there some 20 years ago. My mother struck up an easy conversation with Santhalakshmi miss, my class teacher. She was talking to my AHM Mrs Nagamani, I could see she was popular and well remembered old girl. None of my classmates had a working mom then. I was so proud of her. I did get to meet Mrs Santhalakshmi in school alumni meets in last few years. She keeps flying to the US to be with her son more. She remembers us amazingly individually. Of course, none of my teachers can forget me because of my mother and my tragedy.

KN Indra miss also was a very soft and sweet soul. If we girls would every make noise, she would close the class doors and windows. She would plead with us to stop.

Class 7 and 8 saw many girls coming of age right in our class. Maximum girls attended puberty in these two years. It needs motherly care and love and affection to deal with the confused and sometimes terrified girls. I remember how our teachers handled these cases. In all girls school, with a class of 45 girls, imagine the state of our class teachers who themselves were then mothers to boys and girls of our age. They were most understanding. They would openly talk to us and tell us they were there for us. We girls needed such a psychological support.

KN Indra miss of course was a personal favourite. I wrote an entrance for class 6 admission in my school. Until 5th, I was with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore. She came to my house then and said, our school was lucky to get me on their roll. I still cannot forget those complements. Although I was extremely shy then, those words meant the world to me. They still matter to me after all these years.

KN Indra miss would have golu for Navrathri. During class 8, I went as family friends to her house. In class she would never show in the presence of other girls that she knew me at personal level. But she was ever so kind. She was such a stickler for proper grammar. I had no problems with grammar even then – my basics were ok I guess, yet I benefited a lot with her. Our stateboard English was very simple. Indra teacher also taught us maths. I used to score centums and very high marks in both her subjects. I and my friend Varalakshmi maintained second and first top positions in general proficiency (GP) from class 6 to 10. Every time my mother met Indra teacher in my presence, she never missed telling my mother what a fine student I was. It made my mom very happy. Now thinking of it after all these years I am happy that my mother got to hear at least those few words about me from one of the most influential characters in my life. Indra teacher’s brother worked for the Hindu so she was dwelling in the top floor of her brother’s house. Later on she moved out and I lost touch with the family. She was shaken, broken when my mother took an untimely exit. She was a personal friend, a family friend, and my mother would give her words of comfort as Indra teacher was widowed young. I was by that time in 9th, yet whenever we met in school or in street, she would melt looking at me. She could never. Indra teacher’s elder sister Rajalakshmi worked with my aunt.

My 9th class teacher was MAP. She had such a great dressing sense in those days. She would never repeat her saris. And for the sari, she would match exactly her kumkum (no sticker bindi in those days). Big big colourful bindis. We girls ofcourse mercilessly poked fun on her. She knew it but took it in right spirit. Once she told us her only child – her son – was in medical college. We all wanted to date him without knowing him!!! MAP taught us English and science. She was full of humour and she was way different from KN Indra who would be very serious. MAP’s closest friend was a teacher we nicknamed ‘backbutton’ Rajeshwari lols. Her blouses all had buttons in the back and she would sport a big bun. Those two would sit crosslegged sprawled down our side stairs to value our papers etc. These two with Mrs. D Kalyani (DK) and Mrs. Kathyaayani (our geography teacher) were a gang. Awesome ladies in those days. That was their favourite spot: turning flat of the stairs that had some room. No fan. No fan in my school anywhere. How did we even live. For thousands of girl students who got their monthly periods, only 20 washrooms, 10 in each floor. Yet we never complained. We drank straight from school taps.

MAP lived in Karpagambal Nagar in Luz. For us its like someone living in white house. We had such a reverence for her style, her charisma. My girls even remember the pranks we played on her and the day-by-day arguments with her. When my mother passed away, my school sent her and one more teacher to lay a wreath on my mother – she was such an illustrious student, my mother. Mrs. Satyabhama, our then head mistress, our correspondent Chellammal all were fond of my mother. They remembered her by name. That is the highest respects my school payed for my mother – their alumna who went on to teach the hearing and speech impaired middle school girls. Mrs Bhama and Chellammal never married to serve the girls’ school. We mischievous girls waited for Chellammal to die so that we could have a school holiday! But even after I became a mother, I once met our correspondent in Kapaleeshwara temple. She was very old. She lived within our school premises. I sought her blessings. She daily walked to the temple with an attendant. Can we ever come across such souls in our life. I feel blessed to have studied in this simple school. Bhama and Chellammal together took our school to great heights. My mother and aunt studied under both.

Years later I learnt that MAP’s only son who was working as doctor in the UK died of heart attack. MAP herself did not have a good marriage. She was separated I guess. Not sure. She was widowed in my college days. We girls met her once in our school alumni day. I don’t think we spoke to her about her son. She was well aged. She looked tamed by life. I was filled with memories of her lying a wreath on behalf of my school on my mother. Exactly her son was the same age as my mother when he passed away. Her only child. I had no words for consolation. But I still think of the great lady, her class everything that used to be a big influence on us girls. Until class 8 I never paid attention to my physical looks. MAP invoked in us girls a need to present yourself neat and clean. You don’t have to dress up much – at least you must be presentable. The care she took with her grooming in those days. Yet she carried herself with such a dignity. It was n’t cheap. Same colour bangles. Clips everything. That was her trademark. We girls had a game guessing which colour drape for her the next day. Imagine her wearing a green sari sporting a big green kumkum dot on her forehead! She draped the rarest of colours and never did she miss her matching kumkum! She was a style statement for her times and age. She was also a stickler for grammar. Her chemistry or biology classes never bored. I guess the responsibility of reviving math-science interest in young girls and boys rests with their 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th standard teachers. A couple of my class girls because extremely close to MAP and do remain so to this date.

DK our history teacher from 8th to 10th came to us from a rowdy Madurai boys school as she told us the very first day. She would never take her seat but perch herself atop the bench. She had late pregnancy in our 10th standard. Until then she was such a tough nut. In the very first class she bellowed, ‘why do they say the sun never sets in the british empire.’ No clue really lolz. We were in 8th but I had a fair idea. I was too scared to spell it out for her. She would break a chalk piece and throw it on girls if she saw someone talking in the class or not listening to her. One angry woman! She was nothing like other teachers who were all softspoken. She was a volcano. But inspite of her rigid demeanour, she always softened towards me. My grades were also a reason. Once during exam supervision, she sat on my bench and was reading every word that I wrote in exam. Not just once, always she did that I don’t know why. I understood that years later. She probably wondered at the motherless girl filling up pages after pages. Me and my friend Varalam went for maximum extra sheets always! DK never spoke to me much but whenever she would come for exam supervision I would wait for her to sit on my bench and read my exam paper. In my class 11, DK had a late delivery. Her son is now a married man. Met her during school alumni meet. Remembers us all invidually.

Bhama teacher our HM and beloved teacher of my mother taught us English poetry. Shakespeare etc., she would take one hour for just one para. I don’t remember the finer details but we girls waited for her class. She taught us only in standard X. As she was also our HM she missed many classes. But I cherish her classes even today. She taught my mother, she taught me. My mother used to speak about her English language classes. Satyabhama was her class teacher.

Kathyayani was our geography teacher. Very good language and very well informed. Teachers had to bun their hair in my school – like in my mom’s school. I remember the big bun of Kathyayani miss and backbutton Rajeshwari. Impressive!

My school is entwined with my mother for me. So many memories. My school is part of my destiny. Now my school is getting commercialized and I don’t like it a bit. I think of my selfless teachers so affectionate toward us girls, as if we were their own daughters. We girls are what we are today because of our teachers.

We had a new HM Mrs Nirmala around our class 12, who we nicknamed ‘chemmy nimmy’ as she taught chemistry. Just a couple of years back I met my miss in front of a Mylapore temple. Before I could wish her, she embraced me recognizing me. She said even if she had trouble remembering names and batches sometimes, she never missed recognizing any of her girls. She asked me about my life and was happy to learn I was doing fine. Such is the love and affection our teachers showered on us.

I have to make a special mention of Mrs Mary Joan who is no more. She was our games teacher. From class 6 to 10 she made us do shortput, long jump, high jump, running, tennikoit, basketball, volleyball everything systematically recording our invididual statistics. I wonder what happened to those notes now! She was so diligent in her duties. She was a terror to us girls. I had a different games miss for my standard 11 & 12 but she was not like Mary Joan miss. Now I understand what that strictness about Mary Joan was all about. I owe my discipline in everything to Mrs Mary Joan-like mindshapers in my life. The girls all remember her for her alarm clock precision.

What fees did we pay ? All of thirty tree rupees in 1979 June for my standard VI annual fee. From then on my school fees rose by 20 to 30 rupees every year. Only by my standard 11 and 12 it became 150 rupees which my family thought was expensive. My books were always borrowed. My aunt reserved my books from a senior girl in her school that we got at half rate. I passed on my books to my sister. My grandfather got us the extra books if any and notebooks. Always he was the one to get us our notebooks every year with his hands. He would take us to Vijaya stores in Mylapore on auspicious day and get us whatever we wanted fresh such as log book, map drawing note, graph note, drawing note etc apart from note books. Notebooks and books and uniforms were not on school account as ours was a simple state board school that was government aided (with salaries for staff provided by govt). For the kind of fees we paid, we girls have harvested a lot really. The quality of our teachers… From my school teachers, I can imagine what kind of teacher my mother could have been. I may be a housewife but my friends are all doctors and engineers and chartered accountants and teachers themselves.

How many quiz programs we attended, how many satsangs in school every year (one whole week), navratri golu in the school, all pujas in school. You have to look at our marble Saraswathi, goddess of wisdom. We recited prayers to Her every morning in our school assembly. The same Saraswathi to who my mother too sang her prayers. This school has produced great personalities who went on to make a mark in our society – from Dr Shantha or Cancer Institute Madras who dedicated her life to cancer treatment for half a century to Vani Jayaram, the playback singer and actor Lakshmi of Julie fame. Many thousands of illustrious girls who are not known to public.

Never felt any less because I attended a stateboard school. My girls are with me from my school. In that state board school library in Sudharma building only, I saw a copy of National Geographic for the first time in my standard 6. My school was subscribing to the journal. I read every issue that came my way and was fascinated by wild life right then. 1979-80: picture National Geographic issue in your hands as a stateboard school girl of 11 years. Stateboard schools have their potential untapped even today. Very underrated. If anything, these budget schools are down to earth and make you street smart. You can survive under any condition. Our orthodox school with ‘Aiyar’ name still did not shy away from distributing milk and eggs and codliver capsules to poorest girls in our school – it was a must for these girls to go to dispensary every single day and take the A & D capsules with eggs and a warm glass of milk and mark their presence. Midday meals were free for lower income family girls – without taking a single paisa from govt. School trust funded. Thinking back I am proud of whatever my school managed, achieved.

Now the same school quadrangle is divided, my school is partitioned, who my X ‘A’ classroom belongs to I don’t know. Its a family dispute among the trustees that is seeing the school hurt and damaged and made a piecemeal of. Last heard, our quadrangle is even leased out to Carnatic concerts. Its no more open to the skies but enclosed like for a stage act. Watching my classroom from the street just a couple of weeks back I couldn’t swallow the lump that was forming in my throat.

Posted in Extras

44th Chess Olympiad, Chennai, August 2022

World Chess Championships, Chennai, 2022

Never knew Chennai is the Mecca of Indian Chess! Oh my! Not without a reason. The city with 17 grandmasters the natural favourite to win the bid to host the championships yet again, Chennai has been gripped by chess fever last few weeks. There are chess mascot and chessboard rangolis and kolams adorning our doorsteps. There are theme songs composed for the olympiad. City streets are painted like the chess board. And then there have always been the chess board saris! The championships are underway since last thursday, inaugurated by PM Shri Narendra Modi and CM of Tamil Nadu, MK Stalin.

Obligatory post. Blogging for the only reason that I wouldn’t want to miss out on this one even if I play lousy chess without a strategy. Disappointing that local hero Vishwanathan Anand, two times (or more?) world No.1 has bowed out (or stayed out rather) of the olympiad but kudos to him for getting the venue to Chennai. From Koneru Hampi (women’s) to Praggnanandhaa, India has been churning out world grandmasters in steady stream. Chess is everyone’s favourite game not only in Chennai but entire south India. Why not, the Chaturang or Chess originated in India after all. With about 180 participating nations, the current chess olympiad is a big event for Chennai. Magnus Carlson, renowned world chess champion, is the star of the show. He has announced this could be his last, China and Russia not playing seems to have no effect on Chess enthusiasts. Pakistan players pulled out of the olympiad without playing a single tournament. The US are primed to win the championships even if India B pipped India A as both maintain a stead stream of wins.

When scuba divers play chess under Chennai sea:

Chess is clearly a sensation! Happy chessing! Ping me for a game of online chess (just kidding)!