Of conversation starters, biggerators and learning the art of fearlessness from a child


The other day my 7yo niece Arianna, pulled out a box from her room, came and sat next to me and said, “Let’s play this game Bua.”  She held out a recycled leather tissue box cover that had been converted into what was now the “Sood Family Conversation Box.” 

Conversation starters

While privy to all the board games in their room, I had never seen this, and was particularly intrigued because it seemed home-made. I asked her what it was. She said she didn’t really know but asked me to play with her.

We opened the box to find 60 assorted “conversation starters” in the box. In the form of little folded pieces of paper with questions on them.

all you need is words

She picked one, unfolded it and read out slowly and tentatively, “Would you rather dive from a high cliff into the ocean or give a book presentation in front of 500 people?”

She looked up and said, “That’s easy. I would rather jump into the ocean.”

I paused, wondering if she was just saying the first thing she retained or she actually thought about the choices.  I explained a book presentation to her. I used a show and tell analogy and explained “in front of your whole school, all the children, all ages in the audience.” I then explained the height of a cliff to her using our house stacked up more than 20 times on top of each other. Like “scary high.”  Unblinkingly she said, ‘Yeah, the cliff, Bua.”

I asked her why. Her answer:

“I like to take risks.”

Matter of fact.

Wow, I thought to myself. She is running towards the scary stuff. If I had this conversation with an adult, most would run away from the scary shit and in their case, it would likely be public speaking. Geez – the pressure, the embarrassment, the public judgement.

Arianna however, thought it was a cinch.

I wish I had the fearlessness of a 7yo.

We moved on to the next question:

“If you had to teach a class for a day, what subject would you choose?”

“Science” she answered in a jiffy.

“Why?” I pushed.

“Bua, because I love science. Remember I told you, when I grow up I want to invent a Cleanarator? It will clean all the air and take the pollution out. And it will be good for your asthma. And then I want to invent a Biggerator and  a Smallerator.”

Between reminiscing about Professor KeenBeam and Professor Calculus and wanting to give her a tight hug, I managed to keep a straight face. I had heard about the Cleanarator, so asked her what her Biggerator would do.

“You know when we really like something, like some tee-shirt or something and then we become bigger and grow out of them? Well the Biggerator will make these clothes also become bigger with us.”

“Interesting,” I added, “and think of all the people who cant afford to buy new shoes or clothes for their kids who grow so fast, it will be perfect for them too.”

She nodded happily with the quiet confidence of someone who had already cracked the formula.

My American aunt, who has spent the past 30 years as an elementary school teacher and administrator, was sitting there.Four years ago, she had made this box to transpose this idea from classroom to home. And it had been sitting in the recesses of Arianna’s room until now. She smiled at her granddaughter’s imagination and watched us as we continued to pick slips of paper and talk. 

We spoke for 15 minutes, but I managed to get an insight into Arianna’s mind like I never had earlier. What a great 15 minutes that was for me! It made me admire facets of her that do not come forth on a regular basis. Ideas that she nurses, ideals that she has. Yes, Arianna is voluble, but I can only imagine what a conversation box would do for parents with quieter kids. Or families who spend limited time with their kids – most of which is study or homework-related.

I have a feeling if I jig this slightly it would serve as a great icebreaker tool, to get to know colleagues at the workplace too. Or even acquaintances. (They may not be as honest or forthcoming, but it’s worth a try)

Some of the other questions in the conversation box, so that you get an idea:

If you could choose a nickname for yourself, what would it be?

If you could paint all the rooms in your house a different colour, what colour would you paint each room?

What superpower would you like to have?

Follow these up with ‘Whys’ and “Hows’ and get deeper into your child’s mind.

There is gold in there.

Pure Gold.

About the author:

Aparna Jain is an Integral Master Coach and the author of The Sood Family Cookbook and Own It- Leadership Lessons from Women Who Did (November 2015, HarperCollins). She is committed to making women take charge of making the workplace equitable. She has over 20 assorted nieces and nephews and lives with two nieces and one nephew.

(If you wish to write a guest post, mail me on mommygolightly@gmail.com)


The noise of quiet

One of the things I like about moving house is the feeling of old things getting new lives, new spaces, new journeys. Over a month ago, Re, Bravo (our cat) and I moved into our new abode on the hill of our school campus, where I now teach and they mostly gambol.

I was overwhelmed with the new space I had, but I noticed that I quickly filled it up with things of comfort, although we moved in with just five cartons.

We do the same thing with silences. We have this desperate urge to fill it up, lest it take us to places we do not want to go to. Words are cheap. Silences take work. Most of the time, we are a bunch of overconnected adults, who, despite a cross wiring of our social media avatars, are never connected in any real way, because there are no silences between us.

Even when we take a break or go for a holiday, we fill it up with things to do, places to visit, things to buy, concerts to attend, people to meet, and so on.

We do it to our children. Sometimes I wonder how many inane sound bytes a child gets in a day. I mean there’s only so much “What’s your name?” or “What are you doing?” a child can take, especially when he knows that you don’t really care about the answer, but are just asking to fill in the void. We are so intrigued by silence that we can’t let it be.

As I get older, I’m getting drawn to silences. To people who don’t say much, yet say a lot. Children teach us about the inanity of verbosity. By never saying what they don’t mean, until we start training them to. Every time the stark simplicity of a child confronts our convoluted logic, we are reminded of how unimportant words really are in communication.

We need to find the time to be quiet with our children. We learn more from their silences (and our own) than from words.

I have noticed in my rather limited stint of five years as a parent that very few people can bear a quiet child. A majority of these are parents themselves. Talking is so much in vogue that quiet is considered boring, ancient, uncool. It is as though talking is a default state to be in and silence, an affliction.

As a teacher, I find it in my class too. Each student wants to be the one who speaks first and the loudest. But I am always interested in the quiet child, because, as a child, I never made the cut.

The first thing that struck me about my life in the slow lane was how quiet quiet could be. And how noisy my mind was in comparison. Some days, the only bell that rings is the school bell. But I wanted this. I planned this. I fought for this.

Quiet time came to us in various organic and inorganic forms. There was the quiet time at school post the morning assembly. There were silence bells at mealtime when the cacophony needed to be contained, if only for a minute. There was the ritual quiet time at sunset every day on the hill, beautifully termed Asthachal. Re who usually can be quiet for long periods somehow couldn’t comprehend the orchestrated quiet. He usually ran about, picking twigs and pretending to turn them into wands so he could turn someone into a toad (his latest obsession). Sometimes, he just picked a rock and went to sleep on it.


One day, on our walk to Asthachal, I told him. “You know that Asthachal is quiet time, right? I think it can bother other people who want to be quiet if you distract them.”

But I wonder why we have to be quiet at Asthachal,” he said.

It is important, I wanted to tell him. Because most of us are too small to understand the bigness of quiet. But I didn’t.

Because we talk so much all the time, sometimes it’s nice to rest your mind,” I said.

So will our mind be quiet if we are quiet?” he asked.

There is a small chance, but we can try,” I replied.

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 14th July, 2014)