Archive for August, 2010


I was told that having a red hibiscus plant growing on your property is considered a sign of good luck in parts of North India and in the Bengal region.  So imagine my disappointment when, a month after we moved into our new house, our very own red hibiscus plant suffered from a severe attack of white flies and looked like it was on its way to the graveyard.

The kids also seemed rattled by our very, very sick mandaara-mokka (Telugu for “hibiscus plant”).  My 4-year-old kept asking about it, and I told him that the mokka-doctor (“plant doctor” –  a.k.a. our gardener) would be coming and giving it some mondu (“medicine”) – yes, lot’s of ma words this month.  In fact, the “doctor” had to spray the plant and its neighbors 3 times (with an organic biological fungus – we don’t use chemical sprays).  Daddy even spent an entire Sunday afternoon painstakingly wiping off each leaf with soapy water (thanks, Dad!).  After a month of suspense, our mandaara-mokka sprouted its first flower last week – Hooray!

Here is our recovering plant, along with my son’s favourite swim trunks – also featuring our beloved flower – a keepsake photo for my son:

(Swim trunks by 3 Pommes)

I am on the hunt for a beautiful bowl, like the one pictured at the top of the post.  Wouldn’t this be fabulous in an entryway?

Some more hibiscus finds:  Red Silk Hibiscus Hair Clip by LiD Designs ($22.00) and Organic Hibiscus Tea ($6.49).

And I found this recipe for Hibiscus Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing – that calls for the use of Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup.  I never knew there was such a thing, but the most popular product seems to come from Australia.

**Note:  The Telugu “mandaara(mu)” has the same spelling as the Hindi “mandara,” as in the mythic Mount Mandara – that was used to churn the ocean of milk in the Puranic account of Lord Vishnu’s Kurma Avatar.  It is unclear if there is any link between these 2 terms.

Top image by Google Images.


There are some things that I wish I didn’t know – the ostrich syndrome, if you will.  But here we are on the issue of silkworms.  I was reading a book to my son called Charlie Needs A Cloak – which illustrates how wool fabric is made from cute little sheeps – and we started talking about the origin of other fabrics.  I had always assumed that there was no harm done to silkworms in the process of taking their silk.  They just spin for the pleasure of humans and leave, right?

But the details are quite gruesome:  60,000 silk worms are killed to produce a single silk saree.  Cocoons are steamed or dropped in boiling water.  Apparently the pre-metamormphasis stage yields the shiniest silk.

Is there an alternative?  A non-violent silk?  I did find a few while poking around on the web.  One excellent website is Ahimsa Silks – based in Hyderabad.  They harvest the silk  post-metamorphasis – after the moths have pierced the cocoons.  They even have a patent on the process.  This type of silk doesn’t have the lustre of traditional silk – but the company claims that it’s comfortable, wrinkle-free and has a better fall.

I don’t think I’ll be purging my closet in favour of this eco-friendly silk – but do I still get to make fun of women who wear fur?

Image by Google Images.


Growing up as a South Indian, we didn’t celebrate Raksha Bandhan (or Rakhi for short), even though I had a brother.  I don’t think I even knew there was such a holiday until I was in college.

But it’s a beautiful holiday that celebrates a beautiful (and irreplaceable) bond – the relationship between brothers and sisters.  A girl ties a rakhi (sacred thread) on the wrist of her brother, and gifts and sweets are exchanged.

I hope you’ll take some time today and celebrate Rakhi with your kids – maybe just a simple act of having them feed each other a sweet treat.  Or maybe read alound these special Rakhi Poems.

On a side note, I had a good chuckle when I read somewhere that when girls get older, they would use rakhis as a way to “get out of unwanted crushes” – tying them on boys they were friends with, but didn’t necessarily like “in that way.”  Oh, if only I had known!

Image by Google Images


I know all the experts say that there are tremendous benefits to having kids learn more than one language (see our previous post on this topic), but as a parent it’s really difficult watching your kids try to sort through the language mess.  Particularly between the ages of 18 months and 3 years – when they’re just learning to talk.  I mean, it’s hard enough for them to say a word, let alone getting adults to understand what they’re saying.  And imagine the child’s frustration when 95% of the folks around her don’t speak the language her mother speaks to her in!

Well, our wonderful nanny has been on (a well-deserved) vacation this past week.  It just so coincided with a week of explosive language development in my daughter (21 months).  All of a sudden, her babble turned into beautiful and adorable words and phrases (that I’ve been relentlessly trying to capture on video – yes, I am that kind of mom).  The problem, of course, is that our nanny (who doesn’t speak Telugu) won’t be able to understand her.  So I drafted a cheat sheet for her to study (a portion of which is pictured above).  A “welcome back present” of sorts.

So as the work week starts, I am nervous about my daughter’s ability to communicate with her nanny.  I’ve been down this road before (I gave my son’s 1st pre-school teacher a similar 2-page cheat sheet), so I know it’ll all be “OK.”  But that doesn’t keep me from worrying…


This post is authored by Ms. Dithi Chakrabortty, a self-taught freelance artist from Geneva, Switzerland.  Dithi’s work has been featured in various Indian and international magazines and websites.  She takes on private commissions and also sells her work online through her Etsy shop.

Here is a step-by-step on how to draw Goddess Lakshmi, one of my favourite subjects – along the lines of how I would do it.  Depending on the age of your little one(s), you can have them draw just the face, down to the torso or even the whole figure.  Enjoy!

Draw a straight line along the mid-point of your drawing sheet – this will help maintain symmetry as you proceed.  Start with a circle on the top half for the face and follow by drawing a semicircular crown around it.  Two smaller circles can be drawn on both sides of the face to mark the ends of the Goddess’s crown.

Next, fill-in the facial features and mark the hair-line as shown above.  Draw paisley shapes inside the circles at both ends of the crown.  Then, draw two lines downwards from both sides of the face to mark the neck.  Add semicircular lines end to end to mark the pearl necklaces.

The crown can now be filled with any design of your choice.  Usually a Goddess’s crown is depicted in gold and studded with jewels (emeralds, rubies and pearls, for example).  I have added two circular earrings right below the crown. We can then proceed to draw the torso and end with the Goddess’s legs wrapped up in a padmasana posture (the 8-shaped form or the lotus sitting posture).  We can also draw the left foot, as this is the only one that shows through Her saree.

Next we draw Maa Lakshmi’s flowing hair –  downwards from her crown.  The hands on both sides have very specific mudras (hand gestures):  in her right hand, She holds a lotus with her open palm (a sign of blessing for Her devotees) and her left hand holds a bunch of rice grains (note her left arm is wrapped around a pot of gold).

Filling-in the details once you have the outlines ready is the fun part.  Draw the petals of the lotus as Her seat to complete the drawing. Voila – Maa Lakshmi drawing simplified.

Hope you all have fun with this.

© 2010 Dithi Chakrabortty

Raising Young Artists
Author: Guest Blogger

(Image © 2008 Dithi Chakrabortty)

This post is authored by Ms. Dithi Chakrabortty, a self-taught freelance artist from Geneva, Switzerland. Dithi’s work has been featured in various Indian and international magazines and websites. She takes on private commissions and also sells her work online through her Etsy shop.

My childhood – including my family and the home that I grew up in –  has almost everything to do with my love for art.  I remember vividly my very first art lesson, at 4 years of age:  my mother was teaching me how to draw flowers.  She would emphasize drawing “clear, confident lines” and would say “….try to use the eraser as less as possible, keep it neat.” I probably fell in love with creating art right then, watching Maa enjoy herself as she drew a bouquet sitting pretty in a vase with a Camel HB pencil – helping me with my first drawing copy.

A lot of learning and inspiration came from the family.  Both of my two elder sisters loved art and crafts.  Sitting down to paint was a way to relax for all three of us –  on weekends and even on some vacations.  Both parents encouraged us to take our art-kits along when we travelled – so we could draw scenes from holidays to bring back home as visual journals.

Then there was this one-of-a-kind art school that we attended (all three of us in succession) in the quaint little town where we grew up – very close to Kolkata, India.  It was a school that didn’t just hand out certificates to students at the end of a cut and dry curriculum; it was a place where kids learnt how to enjoy and immerse themselves in the process of creating something that is their own.  One of the many interesting activities in our class was when our teacher took a blank page from each one of our copies, hand-drew borders to the page and then wrote in the top right hand corner Mon theke which in Bengali means “from your imagination.” Those blank bordered pages became the windows that led us into our own creative worlds.

Meaningful family activities can go a long way in stimulating children to express themselves creatively.  Every time there was a birthday in our family, for example, it was sort of a tradition to make gifts and greeting cards from the scratch (buying presents was not considered a cool thing to do as it was the “easier-way-out”).  Not just that, we would make gifts out of recycled products – the idea was to create something thoughtful and relevant, with whatever resources were around.  So birthdays meant thinking ahead of time, trying to conceive an appropriate gift without being repetitive and then giving that idea shape and form.

Making art, as you can see by now, is associated with loads of happy memories from childhood, probably the reason why it still remains for me:  a therapeutic process and one of the best ways to unwind and introspect.  This, to my mind, is one of the most valuable gifts parents can give to their children – enabling them to appreciate the fact that you will have a beautiful friend in any form of art, be it music, painting, photography, drama or dance – a  friend that is demanding but one that will never fail you.  On that note, I hope all of you parents reading this today will take a page Mon theke and give that to your little one(s), letting their creativity take flight and letting them have fun as they fill it up.

© 2010 Dithi Chakrabortty


This post is authored by Ms. Dithi Chakrabortty, a self-taught freelance artist from Geneva, Switzerland.  Dithi’s work has been featured in various Indian and international magazines and websites.  She takes on private commissions and also sells her work online through her Etsy shop.

India boasts of an immensely diverse platter of folk art forms – each one heavily influenced by the culture and people of its region-of-origin, and each unique in its style and technique.  Growing up in West Bengal, I had many opportunities to come face-to-face with several different folk art styles, be it the patachitras (scroll paintings) from Kalighat, the terracotta horses from Bankura, or the floor paintings known as Aalpona that adorn every household during festivals and weddings.  Durga Puja pandals (temporary structures to house the Durga idols for the 10-day festival), for example, would be an ideal playground for folk-artists to showcase their craftsmanship (and a treat for us gawkers to relish magnificent displays of indigenous folk art).

Even as a child, I was intrigued by and drawn to folk forms of art, be it in paintings or in sculpture.  Their beautiful detail, their naive and rustic quality, the use of traditional designs and simple themes, the unapologetic use of vibrant colours and the intricate patterns make these art-forms so rich and so Indian in character.  Not a surprise, then, that much of my love for everything folk spills over in my work as well!

The paisley motif (known as Kolka in Bengali), for example, is a very popular pattern used in many Aalpona designs.  I used this as the base to develop the jewel-studded ends for the crown of Goddess Lakshmi (Maa Lokhhi) in this painting:

(Images © 2008 Dithi Chakrabortty)

Folk art has influenced the work of many artists from time to time.  Kalighat Patachitra is one such style (named after its inception and presence right outside the famous Kali temple in Kalighat, Kolkata) and has influenced many renowned Bengal-school artists over the years.  Jamini Roy, one of the greatest Indian painters of the 20th century from Bengal, was greatly inspired by and prolific in the use of the Kalighat lines and themes.

Images: (left) Typical Kalighat painting;  (right) Jamini Roy art (Theme: Household cat with Prawn)

Here is a little background on 3 popular Indian folk art forms.


Image Source:

:  Bihar
Medium:  Vegetable dyes on handmade paper
Themes:  Hindu Mythology, nature, daily life and social functions
Special features:  The paintings are made with bamboo sticks; hence, the lines are very thin and sharp, with prominent black outlines and intricate patterns.  Popular themes are Gods and Goddesses as well as women, birds and fish.  Originally, only the women of the village Madhuban were authorized to make these paintings.  Over a period of time, men and children were brought into the fold and now entire families are dedicated to this tradition.


Image Source: miniimpex

Origin:  Bengal (Orissa, West-Bengal)
Medium:  Vegetable colours or ink on handmade paper or palm leaves
Themes:  Mostly narrative
Special FeaturesPatachitras are narrative scroll paintings. Many different styles of patachitras exist, the most famous ones being those from Orissa and Kalighat, Kolkata.  Indigenous artists sometimes try to spread social messages through their scrolls and often accompany the display of each piece with a self-composed song that explains the story as the scroll unfolds.

Interesting Link:  The ancient art of patachitra meets modern day advertising.

Warli Paintings

Image Source:

Origin:  Maharashtra
Medium:  White pigments on earthen walls or terracotta
Themes:  Nature and village life
Special Features:  Historians believe that the Warli tradition (named after a tribe that makes this art) can be traced back to as far as the Neolithic period between 2,500 BC and 3,000 BC.  Warli paintings are a celebration of life, nature and tribal living.  Geometric patterns painted in white on a terracotta backdrop draw scenes from village life, depicting man and nature side by side.  The wedding scene complete with ritualistic detail is a very popular theme with Warli artists.

Exposure to folk art from India is a wonderful way to introduce your kids to India’s creative traditions.  You can visit galleries, ethnic craft fairs or even check out books from the library.  Encourage your kids to examine the art and then let them depict a subject of their choice in a folk style they like.  Enjoy!

© 2010 Dithi Chakrabortty

Jana Gana Geography
Author: Gnaana

Indian-Americans are lucky to have back-to-back Independence Day celebrations during the summers – 2 countries, 2 flags, 2 festivals of freedom – and 2 moments to feel national pride.  Hopefully our children will grow to feel the same way.

Last year we staged creative food flags of India and Pakistan – a great way to get kids involved.

And how about that inspirational national anthem – Jana Gana Mana?  Here’s an activity featured in our August Newsletter – it’ll familiarize kids with the anthem and their Indian geography.

If you have our India Map Puzzle, pull it off the shelf.  Otherwise, you’ll need a (preferably) large map of India (you can print one from the web if you don’t have one handy).  Then, make 11 paper labels for each of the following:  Punjab, Sind, Gujarat, Maratha, Dravida, Orissa, Bengal, Vindhya, Himalaya, Jamuna and Ganga.  We taped ours to toothpicks and set them in Mysore Pak (an Indian sweet – extra incentive if they get it right!), so they could function as pawns.  As you sing and explain the meaning of Jana Gana Mana, help your kids correctly place the labels on the map.  This is a terrific and interactive exercise they’re sure to remember.

Here are the lyrics and and a translation of the anthem (translation by Government of India):

Jana Gana Mana
Thou Art the Ruler of the Minds of All People

Jana gaṇa mana adhināyaka jaya he
Bhārata bhāgya vidhātā
Punjāba Sind Gujarāṭa Marāṭhā
Drāviḍa Utkala Banga
Vindhya Himāchala Yamunā Gangā
Ucchala jaladhi taranga
Tava śubha nāme jāge
Tava śubha āśiṣa māge
Gāhe tava jaya gāthā
Jana gaṇa mangala dāyaka jaya he
Bhārata bhāgya vidhāta
Jaya he jaya he jaya he
Jaya jaya jaya jaya he!

Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,
Dispenser of India’s destiny.
Thy name rouses the hearts of Punjab, Sind,
Gujarat and Maratha,
Of the Dravida and Orissa and Bengal;
It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,
mingles in the music of Jamuna and Ganges and is
chanted by the waves of the Indian Ocean.
They pray for thy blessings and sing thy praise.
The saving of all people waits in thy hand,
Thou dispenser of India’s destiny.
Victory, victory, victory, Victory to thee.


Want a glimpse of our new products?  Take a look at our Coming Soon page for a peek!  We’ll be formally introducing the new line up during our New Products Week in September, where you’ll be taken behind the scenes to meet the artists and the history behind each project.

Our new line up includes 18 books (3 books offered in Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu (and 2 in Kannada), as well 4 precious handmade memory/keepsake books), a fabulous high-style Alphabet Poster, new apron designs and adult-sized aprons, as well as a collection of eco-friendly personalized stationery and prints featuring bold, colourful and (of course) South-Asian-inspired graphics.

So you see, we’ve been quite busy this summer!  Gnaana is growing…thanks to you, our readers and customers…so keep the fire going by spreading the word!


My ammama (grandmother) had this bright pink plastic tote (or butta in Telugu) that she’d carry with her everywhere.  To the market, to the cinema, or as an overnight bag when visiting family, this tote travelled with her on rickshaws, buses and on trains.  It could carry 15 kgs of dhals without sagging and got stepped and stomped on.  It was truly indestructable.  I actualy think it’s still alive somewhere in my uncle’s house.

So as my $0.99 reusable grocery bags keep ripping on me, I am reminiscing about my ammama‘s plastic tote and found a few replacements.  They’re not bright pink, but hopefully they’ll last me a good portion of my lifetime just the same.

Featured above, Java Totes hand woven in Indonesia from recycled plastic strapping from A Mark on the World.

Below (left to right), Tote Bags made from recycled plastic toothpaste tubes (you’d have never known, right?) from Banyan Tree Gallery; and the Keen Irving White Tote bag, made from recycling those super sturdy paper rice sacks, from Sport Sandal Beach.

Here’s to you, ammama, for (unwittingly) being my first role model on living green…

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