RASHMI OBEROI | 19 APRIL, 2015
All Things Bright And Beautiful
This is one of those rare stories where I get to cover aspects of adventure, mixed marriages, the love of nature, good upbringing, liberal secularism, love and romance and all things beautiful in just one piece. Seldom does it happen so do take time out to read.
Speaking of my generation and even earlier, our childhood days bring back memories of a period filled with outdoor activities, games, time in the park and as we grew up we moved onto a lot of sports and games like swimming, squash, golf and tennis. I remember cycling, running around playing games like ‘pithu’ and ‘gilli danda’ and hopscotch and something with marbles and many such games. The evenings and weekends were full of children’s laughter and bantering creating a musical din. And if we were stuck to the indoors then board games like Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, Carom, Chinese Checkers and Scrabble were very much part of the schedule. And the friendships made then were lasting and concrete. Sadly it is missing now,on a large scale.
With the introduction of computers and game consoles, children are becoming used to staying indoors and only interacting through screens and monitors. My personal take is that play also allows children to be creative. It even provides a platform to build a healthy parent-child relationship. The amount of time children spend outdoors in playgrounds has rapidly decreased in the last ten years and it is becoming increasingly difficult to ensure that children of all ages are getting a good amount of exercise. Parents are busy with their own responsibilities, work and a fast-paced lifestyle that they overlook their children stuck to the Xbox and the IPad and well, their children very close to resembling ‘couch potatoes’. In today's society of indoor children, personal connections with nature seem hard to come by, which threatens to lessen future generation’s concerns about the environment. Experience of the outdoors and wilderness has the potential to confer a multitude of benefits on young people’s physical development, emotional and mental health and well-being and societal development.
So when I came across Camp Butterfly Grove by Kidventure Camps, it was like a breath of fresh air and an affirmation on my thoughts and ideologies. The founder and director, Karen Yadav Tewari, whose love for children and knowledge in nature far exceeds anyone I know. Immensely talented and artistically creative, she is of the firm belief that kids learn better by ‘doing’. Having been the Principal of a school, she has always thought ‘out-of-the-box’ and solved problems creatively.
Mulling over all this, took me back to Kuala Lumpur in the early 80’s, when my Dad was posted there as the Defence Attaché in the Indian High Commission. During that time, another young officer from the Indian Army was selected for Staff College with the Malaysian Army. Our government is quite insensitive about allowances being given to Defence Forces families going abroad on postings and courses. In fact, I think if we were to compare ourselves with other nations, we would be the worst off. Anyway, dashing Major Arun Yadav from the Gurkha Regiment became a frequent visitor home, and when his beautiful wife Ingrid joined him for a short time, they moved in with us as renting a place was too exorbitant and out of the frugal budget given. My parents insisted they stay with us and so they became a part of the family. They were what you called an extremely good-looking couple who made heads turn. The ties were formed and that continued on with their gorgeous daughters, Nisha and Karen.
Karen being the daughter of an Army Officer, granddaughter of Army Officers and now wife of a Naval Officer spent her childhood exploring the outdoors...so her love for adventure and the environment has always been in her blood. She is also a nature photographer and her work has been published by National Geographic and The Hindu. Her book on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands called ‘Six Degrees North’ was released in the presence of our former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.
Parents play a very important role in bringing up children with the right balance in the prime years. Karen remembers always having something (usually alive) in her pockets, her hair a messy tangle, and grubby clothes at the end of the day but she was an obedient kid, never talked back, was never rude, always ate her meals and did her homework…but never wanted to quietly fold into the convention of being ‘female’…because apparently, according to some of her ‘Aunts’, females were not supposed to do many things. But her parents reinstated all the time to her older sister Nisha and herself that ‘‘You can do anything, you are amazing!” Memories of her trekking into the mountains with her Dad are strong and he would show her what to eat and not eat. She had a passion for nature from the very start, and remembers wandering off once when she was very small, with a teddy bear in one arm and milk bottle in the other, and was found sitting at the edge of a puddle watching tadpoles. She was also always interested in space and started reading when she was very small and even correcting her teacher’s spellings and grammar! (The teacher did not like that very much). Karen wanted to be an astronaut but her math score got the better of her!
Delving deeper into her family history, it amazes me that today there are so many hang-ups about inter-religion and inter-caste marriages. Her Grandpa Kim was one of several boys and girls born to a traditional land-owning, well-to-do farmer somewhere in Meerut. Her great grandfather, in a fit of maniacal genius, decided that he would educate two of his kids and leave the rest of his brood to handle some of life’s more important things like tilling the soil and worrying about the cows. He chose Grandpa Kim (Born Hukum Singh Yadav) and her Grand Aunt Maya to be the ones who would break out of the village and head down a wholly different path in life. Her Grandpa was sent to Woodstock School in Mussoorie, where most wealthy kids were sent in those days, and he grew up to join the Army – the Grenadiers. He told her many gory stories about the war – where he, of course, was the hero each time. She remembers, sitting at his feet, listening in disgust as he would tell us how he escaped the ‘Japs’ by sliding into sewage and staying put, covered in human excrement, until the ‘B******S’ left.
Tall and handsome, well-read, highly intelligent, extremely articulate… Grandpa Kim was quite popular, especially amongst the ladies, and had his share of girlfriends in his day…then came the fateful day that would change his life forever – he met Nana. Now Grandpa, being what he was – all suave and charming, soon found himself assigned as the ADC to Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy to India – exciting as that may have been to him – the more exciting thing was the reaction his heart had when he saw Nana, who had travelled to India with Mountbatten as his PA. Grandpa promptly dumped the girl he was with (the French Ambassador’s daughter or “that tart” as Nana often called her) and hotly pursued Nana who fell for his charms.
Nana was born Ann Connoton and lived in London with several siblings. She did not come from a particularly wealthy home, and during the war, everyone needed to work to get by and so she joined, according to her version, Mountbatten’s team. Nana was always very quiet about her past, never talking much about what she had left behind in England, although she would travel there every four years or so just to ensure that she never lost her nationality – Karen recalls all the goodies that she would get on her return!! It is only later, after her death and when some paperwork for her pension was being done, that it was discovered she was actually working in MI6!
Karen’s maternal Grandfather - Grandpa Ben, was born Benedict Lorenzo Alvares, to a conservative Goan family of Portuguese origin. She does not remember very much about Grandpa Ben, as he was always the quieter of the two Grandparents and would not really talk about himself much, except when it came to boasting about his hunts and his motorcycles (he owned a Harley Davidson and later an Indian make). Grandpa joined the British Indian Army (Rajputana Rifles) and it was during his tenure in the Army that he met Nana. Her Nana was an open book and was a free spirit, growing up with plenty of Irish wit and fire, she never hesitated to speak her mind and it is this that got her in trouble! Once the war started, Nana couldn't bear to sit at home and watch from the side-lines, she ached to get in there and do her bit for the war effort, and so she asked her Dad if she could join the army – he refused so she joined anyway – much to her father’s disapproval. Nana joined the Army as a nurse and was shipped off to Africa where she could tend to the wounded and help those in need. Through the war she moved from one camp to the other, sometimes Palestine, sometimes Cyprus and of course parts of Africa and came back to India with many hilarious tales of her adventures.
Back in India Nana met Grandpa Ben and it was love at first sight – they had barely time to get to know each other before proposals were made and accepted! Later, Karen’s parents met at a dance in Belgaum, where romance blossomed and the Yadavs and the Alvares integrated amicably. Karen followed in her parent’s footsteps falling madly in love with Shiv Tewari at sweet 16. They met at a party where Shiv was already a fine-looking officer young in the Navy. Their romance moved forward into a long courtship before they tied the knot. With two children of their own and a lifetime of experiences, Karen’s mind only works in adding a sense of purpose and adventure to their young minds. In all this I forgot to add that Karen’s fingers spin magic and she bakes the most heavenly cakes on earth. Taste buds never lie!
Yes, keep the faith folks... There is a lot of goodness out there. You just need to open your eyes, take a deep breath and live life Queen-size... Err, King-size too!