Monday, March 10, 2014

Start the Talk About Child Marriage Prohibition Act

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Today is International Women's Day. Every year on this day we see everyone wishing women a happy women's day. And every year on this day I feel the same way - sulking at the pointlessness of a "women's day", consumed by thoughts about the many suffering women in the world, worried about the future that gen-next will  grow into - basically I just end up feeling not so happy on women's day. I know I should look at the positive side of things, like I can vote, and drive a car etc. But I specifically end up thinking about suffering on this specific day for women. Doesn't make me feel very happy.
As a result I avoid looking at "happy women's day" posts. I don't open only-for-women deal ads that show up at this time of the year. I try not to click on links posted by media channels about international women's day on my fb and t feeds. So unless there is a strong personal reminder, I don't get to know that it is women's day. Today however I did get such a reminder. I posted a link on Facebook (after confirming from other news sources that it wasn't a hoax), and a close friend of mine wished me a Happy Women's Day in response to it. She was being satirical and I have a feeling she feels the same way about Women's day as I do.
This post was about a young Indian woman by the name of Linkan Subudhi who is an IT professional and social worker  focusing on education of women and slum children in the suburbs of New Delhi. The post was about how she was beaten up, stabbed, severely injured and hospitalized while trying to stop an 11-year old girl from getting married. The post also urged to publicize Subudhi's bravery and pray for her recovery. How's that for Happy Women's Day... I did some more reading and found out that this incident actually took place in Sept 2013. Subudhi has since survived, contested in local municipal elections and lost
Dated or not, it was a terrible incident and it just barely touches the surface of the rampant social evil of child marriage in India. Studies and statistics have confirmed that India tops the world in the number of child marriages that take place in any country. 40% of all child marriages in the world happen in India, with 39,000 child marriages taking place EVERY DAY. Yes, 39 Thousand. 47% of Indian girls are married by age 18, and 18% by age 15. So more than half of India's women are child brides.
There are several complex social norms that go into making child marriage the widely followed practice that it is. There are some twisted reasons like securing a poor little helpless girls future, or strengthening family alliances, or ensuring that the girls don't go astray or marry out of their caste - reasons that only a lack of education can justify.
I don't even want to start mentioning how deeply emotionally, psychologically and physically damaging the consequences of child marriage can be. With so many women deprived of education, basic rights and wage earning skills, the social and economic impact cannot be undermined either. What's worse is that these women are forever caught in the centuries old vicious trap. They eventually start believing that the marriage is for their own good, and might force their own children into early marriages too. Take for example, the case that Linkan Subudhi was trying to stop  - Subudhi was attacked not just by the groom, but also by the child bride's own mother! And thus goes on the cycle!
Another friend asked me if there were no laws against this. The fact is that child marriage is illegal in India. The legal ages for women and men to get married are 18 and 21 years respectively. All those who grew up in India have seen anti-child marriage ad campaigns driving home the message that girls below 18, and boys below 21 years of age should not get married. Have the campaigns been effective? With a whopping 39000 child marriages being performed every day, the answer is a loud and clear NO. Here is my attempt to try and understand why, and make some humble suggestions on how we can take some steps differently to eliminate this evil.
Social activism against child marriage has been around since the late 18th century, started by Raja Ram Mohan Roy. Various organized groups and iconic leaders from Mahatma Gandhi to prominent social work foundations of today have been imploring society to say no to child marriage. Many are trying to spread the message of saving the girl child, educating her and not marrying her till she is 18. Essentially most efforts, including the Doordarshan ad campaigns, have been focused around pleading to society at a moral level. Since Raja Ram Mohan's time we may have made progress, but it is beginning to look like the call to morality is not helping.
Perhaps it is time to supplement the rhetoric with a high-decibel awareness about the law of the land. And to demand an effective and absolute enforcement of the law. Again, case in point, the Linkan Subudhi girl-child: giving the groom or the mom a lecture on the ills of child marriage, or telling them that its a human rights violation as per the UN would be useless given how evil they have proven themselves to be. Now if there was strong enforcement of the local law and fear of being handcuffed, things would have been different.
Let us look back at the history of the laws. Laws against child marriage have been around since 1929. Yup, that long! The Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed in 1929 by the British government over colonial India. This act was a result of activism by various organized women's associations of that time (they must have been some strong willed women!). The basic demand from the law was to raise the age of marriage for girls and boys to 18 and 21. It was restricted to Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Christian and other minorities excluding Muslims (even though there were Muslim women on a committee who favored raising the permissible ages) There were amendments to the law in 1940 and 1978 but there were still several shortcomings in the law making it difficult for authorities to act effectively against reported cases of child marriage.
In 2006 the Child Marriage Prohibition Act was passed (name changed from "Restraint" of 1929 to "Prohibition" implying reduced tolerance for child marriage) and currently stands as the law against child marriage, which unlike its predecessor, applies to each and every citizen and overrides all personal laws.  This is going to be a long read so for the benefit of those who want to take off already, I should state that my suggestion is to start with making awareness of this law as widespread as possible. To look beyond our moral responsibilities as a society, step up on a judicial level and start branding child marriage as a crime, not social evil. To cut down on the inaction, start reporting the cases and start preaching the law every time you see a child marriage happening around you. And to preach the law, wouldn't it be good to read some bullet points on it?
  • Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 overrides all personal laws and governs each and every citizen of India
  • The ages are still the same - 18 and 21 for F and M
  • Any child marriage is voidable (though not void) upto 2 years after reaching adulthood
  •  Under Section 3 of the Act, a girl has the right to approach a court to get the marriage declared void till she attains the age of 20 years.
  • children from a child marriage are treated as legitimate even if the marriage is nullified
  • Any male over 18 years of age who enters into a marriage with a minor or anyone who directs or conducts the marriage ceremony can be punished with up to two years of imprisonment or a fine
  • If the girl is under 16, it is an out and out crime.  Consent does not matter to constitute offence under Section 376 of Indian Penal Code. (under 16 the girl is considered too young to give consent)
  • Consummation with a wife below the age of 15 years of age is an offence under Section 375. No exceptions!
  • Religion of the contracting party does not matter.
  • Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 being a “Special Act”  will override the provisions of Hindu marriage Act or any personal law.
The above is a summary listing the highlights of the Act. It is not complete and there are caveats, but in general it looks like a pretty powerful law to have if enforced effectively.
We need steps taken to -
a) spread awareness about the law, especially given that it covers every citizen and overrides other personal laws
b)  demand effective enforcement of the law
Since most child marriages take place in rural and uneducated sections of the society, there needs to be grassroots level work done to spread awareness about the law and its tenets. Today there is no fear of the law, but perhaps there is also very little awareness about the law. 
Once they are aware that they have till the age of 20/23 to get their marriages nullified, some brave girls and boys might get the courage to approach a court. Once they know that the perpetrators and conductors of a marriage can get jailed for 2 years, more girls can start reporting to the authorities. I am not sure there is an immediate remedy for the ineffectiveness of law enforcement authorities. However if the awareness spreads, and media steps in, and number of reported cases start increasing then the cops might be pressured to start treating child marriage as a crime, not a social norm (ye to chalta hai ji. ab hamara byaah bhi to 15 saal ki umar me ho gaya tha).
Indian media has in recent years been very effective in highlighting social issues. They need to spread viral messages about 18 and 21 being not just suggested ages but the legal ages. Its the law, and there are no exceptions. Maybe Amitabh Bachchan should do a campaign with his long kanoon ke haath (hands of the law) wrapped around someone conducting a child marriage. That would be something!
My point again is to highlight child marriage as a crime. It is my plea to anyone working against child marriage to start promoting awareness of the law. Appeals to morality alone will not be able to change the deeply embedded, centuries old convoluted perverted traditions.
There are some great social work groups working towards the betterment of the girl child. They are all dealing with child marriage as the big bottleneck that truncates girls education. One notable group is the Study Hall Foundation which operates schools for underprivileged children from very poor backgrounds.  They have started the "India's Daughters Campaign" against child marriage, very aptly calling child marriage as slavery. This post is largely an inspiration from their campaign, and a result of their asking readers to share their thoughts on child marriage. I hope they will find this post worthwhile and take steps to talk about the law through their grassroots level work. (You can also email them your views at info@digitalstudyhall.in )
Voidable under Section 3, Criminal under Sections 375 and 376 of the Child Marriage Prohibition Act for every citizen - it should be our responsibility to ensure that every girl child at risk has these phrases in her lexicon. It might sound harsh and drastic but on this women's day let us start trying drastic.
And so it is women's day. The day that doesn't make me very happy, but today after putting down these thoughts, and hopefully useful suggestions, I don't feel so miserable after all. I feel hopeful that someone might find my advice useful. I feel hopeful that there might be something worthwhile that I can do through writing. When I first got to know about women's day (12 or 13 years ago) the computer-less me had taken to a little diary and poured her heart out with thoughts on justice and happiness for women, hoping and praying that some day we might overcome. Well now at least I have a blog to pour my thoughts on and share with the you. Other than that, nothing much has changed. We still haven't overcome...but I am still hopeful.
Happy Women's Day!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Hour of Code

On December 9th 2013 when the Amazing Grace Hopper would be 107 years young -
As mixed opinions pour in about this campaign (nothing can never really placate those critics), it makes us wonder what the Hour of Code is trying to achieve. Is coding knowledge really that important, or should the societal norms of division of labor continue and coding be left to the geek Gods? Yes technology has come a long ways since, but do we need to learn coding? Do we need to understand how the apps that do magical things like automatically fold laundry actually make it happen? This post is a personal reflection on the topic. You can choose to agree, disagree, read through or entirely ignore it.

Let me start by saying that so far I am not aware of an app that folds laundry, and second, the “smartness” of smart phones, tablets and much of what computers can do today is NOT magic. However, to someone born in the 80s, 70s or before, a lot of present day technology would seem fascinating. We know its not magic, its all very scientific, its a result of several logical steps put together to achieve a certain functionality. But to think we grew up in a time we relied heavily on postal service to stay connected, or paid $5/minute for a trunk call,  it is certainly awe-some be able to do a FaceTime  or Google Hangout, all for no charge.  We cannot help but marvel at the rapid technological advancement over the past 15 years.

For my 5y and 1.5yr olds however, issuing a print command from my phone to the printer over wifi, or streaming content from a tablet to the TV is quite the norm of day to day life. The marvels of technology as we may call them are things that they take for granted. Like them, most of the next generation - millennials and later - were born when the Internet was already mainstream or when the iPad was already invented. As such it is no surprise that they take these advancements for granted and end up being the natural consumers of technology that they are. Similar to how we took electricity for granted but most of our previous generation (at least in India) did not have electric connections till they were well into adulthood.

And so, for both those who marvel and those who take it for granted, it could be a good idea to create awareness about the inner workings of computers, the basis of almost all day-to-day technology, and set their notions right. When Grace Hopper was a child, she dismembered several alarm clocks in order to figure out how they work. It is quite fitting that the campaign that teaches us to break down computing similarly, is launched on Grace Hopper’s birthday. What could be a better tribute than creating widespread coding awareness in the honor of the “first lady of computing”.

While it is great that this initiative will demystify computer programming for many curious adults (like will.i.am or Ashton Kutcher), the larger point is that for young ones around the world, computer education needs to evolve as rapidly as the trends in computing. Education needs to be relevant as well as current. The US Department of Education coined the term STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to keep up with Technology education. A great concept, except that Technology in itself is a very broad term. I am not sure if “Technology” education should encompass Computer Science or keep it separate but it is important that education about computers become more mainstream. The challenge may be that there may not be enough educators in the field just yet. And so it may be worthwhile for leaders and experts in the field to start a campaign like the Hour of Code and make the T in STEM more meaningful.

I recently attended an open house at renowned and reasonably expensive private school in my neighborhood. It was going very well until they started to boast about how they were so technology focused that every kid grade 6 and above needs to have a MacBook and in lower grades a ChromeBook, but when I asked if they are introduced to programming or basic systems the answer that I got was that “we’ve recently installed a 3D printer” (in other words my question went unanswered with more boastful shallow statements). For the staff and students at this school, having the latest cool gadget is the same as being a technology focused school. They seemed of good intent so maybe they just lack the guidance or resources to impart computer education. I have heard similar concerns from parents of older children across the country. The Hour of Code is exactly the kind of thing that this, and many other schools across the world can benefit from. It was started by code.org which not only is committed to bringing computer education in schools but comprises of people with solid experience in the industry. It is a perfect example of how the world is more connected than it ever was before and how hungry everyone is for knowledge. It is fun, its a great exercise, it certainly teaches coding and who can’t relate to Angry Birds? Which is a brilliant use case by the way. I tried the first few puzzles with my 5yr old. She thoroughly enjoyed the game and was happy to “tell the computer” what you want it to do in a few simple steps.

That is the beauty of the Hour of Code. It is simple, elegant and to the point. As the debate about whether computer science should be taught to little kids in schools continues, I find it extremely exciting to work on the Hour of Code with my little Angry Birds fan, thereby hoping that she will learn to break down problems into smaller chunks, appreciate that it takes many steps for those Angry Birds to define their trajectory from catapult to green pig, and hopefully eventually learn not to get mad when the my phone occasionally fails to find the printer on the home wifi network.

So if you haven’t done your Hour of Coding yet, go ahead, give it a try.

Here’s to Grace Hopper!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Words words and more words

At 15 months, the words and gestures she has mastered -
- diddi, diddi ayi (for didi)
- mamma mamma
- papa papa
- dadi
- mamaji
- aati (aunty)
- naain (nani)
- baby
- khakha (food)
- maain (maani, pani)
- holds a camera or cellphone to her eye and says cheeee
- shoe
- wag a finger for no
- pee pee
- putty (potty)
- aadu (ankush)
- batte batte batte batte (rambling words)
- baajate (bahar jate)
- tata tata
- mann (moon)
- bookabookabookabooka (book)
- bo (balloon)
- kaa gayi (kahan gaye)
- tata tata tata (also says this when asked - ghumne jana hai?)
- nana (for nahana)


Thursday, February 7, 2013

How to make the best of Orlando.

Many books have been written on how to plan a trip to Orlando and how to make the best of your visit.
We went there 2yrs ago when our now 5yr old was 3 and she had a blast.
I took a book with me (borrowed from a colleague) which was really helpful. Its excessive though to carry a book, so if you want to avoid that, you could just print this page with a summary of key learnings from Disney guide books and travel experience.

1 - The number one tip to keep in mind, get to the parks early. Hard to do but totally worth it if you can manage! There will be lines everywhere. From parking to entrance to the rides. So if you can get in early it will save you a lot of waiting later on in the day.
2 - take print outs of the park maps beforehand and decide which rides you want to do beforehand. Some rides are very popular and will get crowded if you delay. So attack those rides first. 
3 - there are several smartphone apps that will tell you how much the current wait time at each ride in each park is. Download them and use them. Very helpful
4 - if you can, pack some food. Muffins, bagels etc so you dont have to worry about breakfast since you will be going early (I hope). Also, food inside the parks is pathetic and expensive. So its best to have some of your own supply, especially if you have picky eaters with you.
5 - Divide and conquer - you and your spouse can wait in lines for separate rides so that your little one has to wait in one lesser line. Some people will give you the eye roll when you are joined by the rest of the family but hey, its not your fault if you are smart enough to devise a time saving strategy and they are not. It may seem like a tacky thing to do but the parks are huge and so are the lines and its impossible to get a little kid wait in an hour long line.
6 - all Disney parks have the concept of Fast Pass. Meaning at certain times they will issue Fast Pass tickets for some of the shows/rides. Don't miss these. These are free and a must have. I don't remember the exact details of this so read up on this beforehand.
7 - Child swap - there are several rides which kids cannot go on. If you want to go on them you can do a child swap here. Meaning that you and your husband can stand in line with the kid and go till then end. One of you can go on the ride and one waits with the kid. They give you an express ticket to the person waiting and when your spouse is back give an express entry onto the ride, no waiting in the line again.

Now, on which parks to go to. I highly recommend Universal Studios. If you get there early you can do the Harry Potter rides within 15mts or at most half hour, and later in the day the wait for these is easily 1.5 hours. Universal also has the Dr Seuss section which kids will love. Universal does not have a free Fast Pass but you can pay and buy an Express Entry ticket, which I would recommend getting if you can.
Among the Disney parks, for kids of this age the Magic Kingdom is great. Animal Kingdom is good. You can try Disney MGM also inrs interesting. Epcot was a little boring for a 3yr old but a 5yr old might like it, I am not sure, check their reviews beforehand. 
You can checkout Sea World if your kid is into dolphins and sea animals.
Also check out Disney Downtown, nice for an evening walk, and free.

Booking and cost wise, your best bet is to book directly from DisneyWorld.com. The more days you buy passes for the cheaper it gets and you get authentic tickets. There are several fraud sites and sellers out there.
Accomodation - if you stay at a Disney resort you get special privileges like extra park hours, discounted parking etc. We didnt stay at Disney but next time we might. We stayed across the street from Disney downtown.
Also check out MouseSavers.com. They have good deals and good tips on saving.

If you are going in May, watch out for Gay Days. There is one week in May where gays from all over the world get together in Orlando and visit each park on different days. Not an issue with gays but its just that the parks and hotels get crowded. Also the hotels may sometimes block access to amenities like pools because they would be having gay convention events. We didn't know and were there during gay days and could not use the pool or kids play area etc since that entire area was blocked for other events! Not to mention that the hotel was so crowded with skimpily clad hot men. (A little uncomfortable but no harm done.)
Here is another link that will help determine which are the most crowded seasons for Disney world, and you can plan accordingly -
http://themeparks.lovetoknow.com/Disneyland_Statistics

Food - If you are particular about eating at Indian restaurants, you will not be disappointed. There are several to choose from. I just used urbanspoon on my phone to find the restaurants in the area and most of them were decent. Here is the list from urbanspoon. I think we went to Passage to India and Clay Oven and both were decent.
http://www.urbanspoon.com/f/26/2532/Orlando/Indian-Restaurants

As I mentioned before, food options in Disney parks are quite hopeless. (Universal is better that way). However, when was the last time you heard someone say - oh my vacation was a disaster cos the food sucked? :)
Exactly, you will get by and have fun. During the day when you are stuck in the park it might be an issue but you can always make up for it by having a nice dinner.

So get set, do some homework to figure out what suits you, and enjoy the warm weather, sunny skies and hassle free parks of Orlando. Meanwhile it continues to rain and snow in dreary grey New York!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Individual Liberty, vyaktigat svatantrata

पिछले कुछ वर्षों से भारत में अन्ना हजारे और लोकपाल बिल के कारण राजनैतिक परिवर्तन की एक लहर चल उठी है। सम्पूर्ण रूप से भ्रष्ट सरकार से अब सब तंग आ चुके हैं। अरविन्द केजरीवाल ने आम आदमी पार्टी स्थापित करी है और हम सभी आशा करते हैं की सच्चे इमानदार लोग हमारे नए नेता बनकर पतन और भ्रष्टाचार से हमे आजाद करेंगे।  कहने के लिए हमारा देश "आजाद देश" है पर क्या हम सच में आज़ाद हैं? आख़िर आज़ादी का मतलब क्या है? अपने देश से विदेशी सत्ता को हटा कर अपने देशवासियों की बनी हुई संसद बैठा लेना, अपने आप को संवैधानिक तौर से मत का अधिकार देना, चुनाव बहुमत से सरकार बना लेना, क्या इतना काफ़ी है? अपने आप को लोक्तन्त्र, गणराज्या घोषित कर लेना, जैसा की हुँने ६५ साल पहले किया, क्या यही आज़ादी है? मेरा कहना ये नहीं की विदेशी सरकार को भारत से निकालना कोई आसन कार्य था। पर हम वहीँ क्यों रुक गए? उसके बाद जब स्वतन्त्र रूप से अपना निर्माण करने का समय आया तो हम चूक क्यों गए? हमारे स्वतन्त्र होने का प्रयास अंग्रेजों को निकाल कर क्यों समाप्त हो गया? सदियों से शायद हम यही भूल करते आ रहे हैं की हम अपनी देख-रख कुशल-मंगल की बागडोर किसी और के हाथ में दे देते हैं। चाहे वो शेहेंशाह अकबर हो, या पंडित नेहरु, या फिर नरेन्द्र मोदी या अरविन्द केजरीवाल, हम अपने नेताओं पर अँधा विश्वास करते हैं। हम सोचते हैं की कोई नेता या कोई पार्टी हमारे हित के लिए कुछ करेगी। हमारा अच्छा बुरा अब इन्ही के हाथ में है। इस तरह की सोच ही पराधीनता की पहली निशानी है।

 अवश्य आप यही सोच रहे होंगे कि किसी राजा महाराजा, विदेशी सत्ता, तानाशाही से, या फिर अपने पडोसी देशों जैसे मिलिटरी या कम्युनिस्ट राज्य से तो हम अच्छे ही है और उनकी तुलना मे हम आज़ाद भी हैं। परंतु यदि  व्यक्तिगत स्तर पे, या जिसे हम इंग्लीश मे कहें कि "individual level" पे - परिवार, देश, समाज सबसे परे हट कर, केवल और केवल एक अकेले व्यक्ति के सन्दर्भ मे देखा जाए  - तो इस राष्ट्रीय स्तर की आज़ादी की परिभाषा क्या मायने रखती है? 


हम स्वतंत्र, स्वराज, स्वदेश की बातें करते हैं पर हम आज़ादी के मूलतम रूप को, व्यक्तिगत स्वाधीनता, व्यक्तिगत स्वत्व, individual liberty के बारे मे क्यों नही सोचते? क्या हम अपने आप को इतना महत्व भी नही देते की हम अपनी खुद कीआज़ादी के बारे मे सोचें? इस सरल और साधारण विषय को समझना कठिन नही पर अक्सर ही हम विचारों को सरल रूप मे ना देख कर क्लिष्ठ उत्तरों की खोज मे लग जाते हैं और किसी छोटी सी बात को पेचीदा बना लेते हैं।व्यक्तिगत स्वतंत्रता भी ऐसा ही एक विषय है। हम अपनी व्यक्तिगत स्वतंत्रता को त्याग कर समाज देश दुनिया की समस्यों मे लीन हो जाते हैं। हम सोचते हैं की अगर हमारा देश स्वतंत्र हो, अगर हमारे समाज मे बुराइयाँ ना हों, अगर हम सब मिलकर एक उत्तम समाज का निर्माण करें तो हम सुखी रहेंगे। लेकिन अगर हम इसका ठीक विपरीत करें - हम समाज और देश को कुछ देर त्याग कर अपनी स्वतंत्रता और अपने सुख समृधि के बारे मे सोचें, और अगर हम ऐसी स्वतंत्रता को प्राप्त कर लें तो बाकी की समस्याएँ स्वयं ही छोटी और सरल हो जाती हैं।

यह लेख और आने वाले कुछ और लेख individual liberty, व्यक्तिगत स्वतंत्रता के बारे में मेरी समझ व्यक्त करने का तुच्छ प्रयास है। आशा है इसे पढ़ कर आप, और इसे लिख कर मै इस विषय के बारे में चिंतन मनन करेंगे, और ये भी देखेंगे की किस प्रकार हम अपने शासन अनुशासन में इस सहज विचार को ध्यान में रख कर अपूर्व सुधर ला सकते हैं।

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Back to Food!

"And so after more than a year long hiatus the master chef is back with a richer repertoire and new savories in her bag of delectable recipes". Or thus would have been the opening line of this post if I were a Martha Stewart or a Tarla Dalal. Master chef or not, its certainly been a 12 months + hiatus, and during this time there certainly is a new set of recipes that I am ready to share with the world - namely, baby food recipes!! Yup, the boiled, pureed, bland kind of food available in solid colors in little jars like in the picture.
Starting 6 months my little one (the younger little one) was ready to move to a diet comprising of light solid foods. Doctor's advice - start any new food in the morning or around noon in order to monitor any reaction or intolerance to it. Avoid introducing new foods at night.

We started with a gentle meal of 2tsp rice cereal mixed with roughly 60ml of water to make a very liquidy consistency. This routine went on for a few days, twice a day. This is standard stuff, there really isn't much to write home (or blog) about it. I do so just to keep a journal.
After 3 days of only cereal, it was time to start vegetables. Started out with carrots and sweet potatoes from Gerber. I really wanted to get an organic brand but they didn't seem to have anything in Stage 1 foods. So Gerber it was. However, given how hard it is to trust what goes onto the shelves in the name of food these days, I decided to start preparing baby food at home, as I had also done with the older little one. Again, a lot of moms do this so no big deal here either.

What I do want to do is share are details of the tools and methods of preparing the perfect food that works (for my baby at least). So here goes.
At the grocery store: if you are the chemical-herbicide-pesticide-GMO aware type of person, you probably want to browse the organic vegetables aisle. Pick small amounts of a variety of vegetables. My stage 1 favorites were carrots, squash and sweet potatoes. Beans and peas did not go very well with my baby. Neither the jars, nor the home-made ones.
Ready to cook? Thumb rule for Stage 1 baby food cooking - food needs to be pureed smoothly to make it easy to swallow. Thumb rule for making good purees - food needs to be really well done to make it soft. Thumb rule for softening the hardest foods? Use a pressure cooker! Sing with me -

हाव्किंस की सीटी बजी
 खुशबु ही खुशबु उडी
मज़ेदार लज्ज़तदार
खाना है तैयार
हांजी खाना है तैयार

This 2 litre pressure cooker from Hawkins is the most useful tool in terms of size and ease of use and cleaning. Of course if you have a 1.5 l one it would be even more handy, but I've had the 2 l one forever as it works well for a family of 2-3 adults for day to day cooking. Now it doubles as the baby food cooker!
So with this cooker at hand: Step 1: as with any food, wash well and peel. Chop the vegetable, doesn't have to be finely chopped as its going to get cooked and mashed anyhow. Add baby water or clean drinking water for boiling, I wouldn't use tap water. Let cook for 8-10 or maybe more whistles to ensure that the food is very well done. Let off the steam and open to proceed to next step.

Regarding quantity, for the 2 l cooker I started with 2 medium sized carrots at a time in Stage 1, moved on to 3 for Stage 2 (starts when the baby starts sitting). This works for 2 servings of carrots.
For sweet potato, usually boil half a sweet potato at a time and use the remaining later.
Peas and beans - not easy to prepare as the skin gets in the way of making a smooth puree.
Squash - really depends on the size of the squash. 1 yellow squash at a time is good.
Stage 2 onward the vegetables can be mixed and daal (lentils) can be included in the diet. So things become easier because now you can prepare khichdis (mish mash of grain, lentil and veggies for those who don't know). Throw in rice, daal (in a 1:2 ratio) and an assortment of vegetables from carrots, broccoli, pumpkin, gourd, squash, beans, potatoes and spinach into the cooker. Add some turmeric and a hint of garlic (supposed to have miraculous health benefits), more than 2x the amount of water and let cook.
Stage 2 is also the time to start fruits. Apples and pears can be boiled and pureed. Bananas can be mashed raw and mixed with water and served. Citrus fruits only after 1 year.

Step 2: Puree. Important to note, Up until Stage 3 (crawling), make smooth purees. Stage 3 on blend coarsely and let the gums do some work.
My favorite tool for Step 2? This 1.5 cup sized small and handy chopper.
http://www.amazon.com/Proctor-Silex-72500RY-2-Cup-Chopper/dp/B00006IUX0/ref=sr_1_1?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1349230952&sr=1-1&keywords=proctor+silex+chopper
With my older one, I always used a hand blender and it was ok but not great. This chopper on the other hand is really great for baby food pureeing and meets all the criteria of a useful tool for the busy mom - small, portable, easy to clean, and functional. Its supposed to be a chopper but for boiled soft foods it works as a blender and whipper.
Once the food is boiled, pour the contents of the pressure cooker (along with the water as that is where the nutrients are) into the chopper/blender. Whip for 15-20 seconds. Add 2-3 tbsp water, stir and whip some more till you get a creamy consistency which is important for Stage 1. Once done, pour into glass jars or containers to store some, and let the lil one chomp away some!
Storage: Anything prepared today can be stored in the refrigerator and safely used till day after tomorrow.

Important: For Stage 1, use only single grain cereals. Start simple, with white rice cereal. There is no need to  try brown rice or oatmeal on day 1. Let the light stuff go in first and then after a week or so you can try brown rice or oatmeal or barley. Rice and brown rice both caused constipation for my baby so I switched to organic oatmeal which is working out well. Mixed grains can be started in Stage 2
Same rule for Stage 1 veggies - no mixing, only single ingredient vegetables.
Proteins should be started in Stage 2 but so far I have been reluctant to give meats. I am hoping that daal will  serve as the source of protein, although its not nearly as rich as meats. Still thinking about it.
Stage 2 is really where the mixing starts - mix veggies and grains, fruit and grain, veggie and protein  grain and protein. (fruit and protein would kinda suck but you could try)
Repeat - Doctor's advice - start any new food in the morning or around noon in order to monitor any reaction or intolerance to it. Avoid introducing new foods at night

Anyhow, that't that for now. If anyone has any advice or tips to offer, please do so. Happy to answer any questions while I am still at the task of preparing and serving baby food.
And BTW, I did recently find time to make a dinner of kathi rolls amongst the baby food cooking. Recipe to follow in next post.
Until then, happy meals!

Pictures and links - courtesy amazon.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Stationery card

All You Need Valentine's Card
Unique shower invitations and birth announcements by Shutterfly.
View the entire collection of cards.