The tale of a toy and a hollow man

Once upon a time

A hollow man spotted me

A shiny new toy, fragile with an inner brokenness

Yet filled with wisdom, poetry and deep love

He decided then and there to put me in a box

There was a painting of a moon in the box, and a ragged blanket

But, I was out of his reach

Sometimes getting trampled, but sometimes soaking up the sun of love, rain and wisdom

He persisted ever so subtly to walk towards me

 For he was starving, broken, cold and mean

He smiled, coaxed and made me feel special

It took years, but he persisted

For he was starving, broken and mean

When he finally picked me up, he laughed in glee

Danced and sang, seemed happy

But, he was just starving, broken, cold and mean

He put me in the special box with a picture of the moon and a ragged blanket

He sought to nourish a bottomless pit

Drinking sunshine and poetry through a straw

I was almost deplete when wisdom emerged to the rescue

With all my might, I sprang out of the box

Like Jack

The invisible cord still intact (I did not know)

But, I was free, there was true love around, sunshine, rain and poetry

The invisible cord is rusting, bit by bit

The hollow man stares – filled with rage

For he is starving, broken, cold and mean

He tugs at the cord sometimes

But, he is weak

For he is starving, broken, cold and mean

And, there is love, sunshine, rain and poetry all around

The kind he cannot feel

The kind that is setting me free!

Butterfly haunting

A week before my wedding, butterflies haunted me.

One rested on the wall next to my bed. He was white with delicate pink and yellow patterns outlined in a rich dark blue. He kept me company while I sank into the world of Hemingway. He was right beside me when I chased hunters in Africa, watched bull fights and sobbed about a hinted at abortion and the human condition. He refused to move. In the end I gently chased him out of the window for I feared he would starve to death otherwise.

Literature cannot feed your body.

Perhaps, I was presumptuous. Perhaps, the butterfly knew better.

One followed the bus I caught with my bridesmaid to visit the salon. She was (the butterfly) velvety brown with white swirls on the wings. She couldn’t keep up with the bus but managed to wish us good luck, fluttering about in a frantic good bye dance.

“Lovely colours!” the bridesmaid exclaimed. We smiled at each other in the spirit of shared love of beauty and the knowledge that we were finally free of our traumatic past, at least for a while.

One sat on a broad green leaf in the garden while I poured my doubts into a sympathetic ear of a long-suffering friend. She (the butterfly) looked like a would-be butterfly-zebra with her black and white patches. The two tiny patches at the end of her wings were tinged orange and pale green.

“You will cross the bridge when you come to it,” the long-suffering friend stated.

One escorted me home on a sunlit morning following a night of revelry with the girls. He had blue-black wings sprinkled with a hint of silver. He was the largest of them all and reminded me of a childhood friend I once made in the woods. The said friendship lasted a single blissful day for he was a migrant butterfly with enormous wings.

“That was a beautiful day in the woods,” I reminisced.

A week before the wedding, a throng of butterflies infested a mango tree near the Kelaniya Bridge. They were orange, yellow and white. They swarmed above the gold tinted mango flowers in frenzy. I drank in the beauty, the dust, petrol fumes, warm sunshine, the noise, the pulsating energy and the dirty waters beneath the bridge.

In a riot of hues and fluttering they visited me on the morning of my wedding. I sat in the garden with a cup of tea before braving the world as a bride, apprehensive yet charmed with the idea of a new beginning. The brown and white spotted butterflies flitted from one orange blossom onto another, in eager anticipation of nectar. A lone small, yellow butterfly shied away from my eager gaze.

I sat with my half-drunk cup, daring to imagine a better future with the blessings of my beautiful butterflies fresh in my heart. A dusty ray of sunshine shimmered onto my bare arm, infusing me with warmth on a chilly morning.

The colours are always lovely.

Two poems on Education as it is!

Hubris and shame will be my legacy

I stomp curiosity (It kills cats) like a mighty T-rex

I raise my head and scream

“Bow down you mutts”

Fear, loathing and drudgery shall be your lot

Stealing star tingles

We steal moonlight and star tingles

The faint beat of a drum unique to each child

As we fumble along trying to mould them like clay

To fill our own empty cups:

Cracked and broken in places, paint so vibrant once – peeling off.

Let them chase sea stars, peer at bugs, stomp on mud and chomp on leaves

Let them wander the lands and waters, seeking their own true path

Unschooling diaries – Self-directed learning

The little boy (3 and a half years old) determinedly shoves in baking powder, red food colouring, a dash of washing liquid and a squirt of vinegar into the hole in his clay mound. A thick, red gooey flow dotted with creamy bubbles spills out of the mound, staining the floor and filling the little boy’s heart with delight and awe.

“It is erupting. It’s erupting”, he squeals in delight, moving his dinosaurs dangerously closer towards the lava spewing mound. He is lost in the world of ‘Land before time.’ Yes, he is playing, pretending and learning.

The above is a real life adventure of my 3 year old, with whom we are ‘unschooling.’

What is unschooling?

Unschooling is not a method, but a way of life, based on trust, respect, compassion, freedom, and a shared passion for exploration and learning between children and adults. Unschooling children are free to learn sans the restrictive presence of standardized curricula. They are free creatures, with unclipped wings and their inner desire to learn unchecked by conventional schools or authority figures. But, it does not mean that the children learn without guidance. They learn together with caring, helpful and discerning adults.

How do unschooling children learn?

Unschooling children learn through living their lives in a free, nurturing environment that supports self-directed learning. They have access to resources, guidance and plenty of freedom to play. They do not learn maths, languages, geography and science through following a set and often limiting curriculum. Instead, life leads them towards passionately learning not only maths, science, languages, IT but also communication, negotiation skills and empathy.

Is play based learning similar to unschooling?  

Our own journey of unschooling and self-directed learning has led us to shapes, dinosaurs, learning letters, counting, marine biology and plenty of imaginary play. Speaking of play, one of the premises of self-directed learning and unschooling is that children learn through play much like wolf cubs learn necessary skills to survive in the wild in a similar manner. But, self-directed learning should not be confused with play-based learning which is still adult controlled learning.

“Mentoring self-directed learners is like rolling a hoop down a hill. You want to let the hoop roll on its own, only touching it when necessary to keep it upright and rolling., and even then as lightly as possible.”  Lori Pickert

The importance of community (and other children)

Even though self-directed learning occurs at home, children thrive amongst other children. And, we have been fortunate enough to find an education centre run by a couple of similar minded parents. At Kinder Republic, kids roam free, finding their own passion and growing into independent and curious beings.

Let us catch a glimpse of what a day of unschooling looks like with my 3 and a half year old.

A day in the life of an unschooling 3 year old

“There was light outside when I woke up. I was starving. Breakfast is my favourite meal.  Why? You ask. Well, I eat the ‘bestest’ and the most delicious food for breakfast. And, Amma and I read books afterwards. I had sweet potatoes. I only love the yellow kind. 

Then Amma and I read books. I can’t read on my own yet. Amma has to read. Sometimes, I cover some of the numbers with my hands (Amma calls them letters) and ask her to tell me the names of those. I can recognize the numbers ‘O’, ‘W’, ‘X’ and ‘A’.  We read a lot of books.  I wanted to read more. But, Amma said she was hungry and needed her breakfast. Can you imagine that?

I was mad and grumpy. I cried and cried. Amma just kissed me and said she will come back after her breakfast.

I sulked a bit. But, what can you do? I had to find something else to do. I took Christmas decorations and made a coral reef. I know a lot of sea creatures. This is my favourite song – ‘Creature Report, Creature Report – Jellyfish, anglerfish, octopus, sea star, and porcupine puffer fish.’

Then it was time to explore outside. I love making lakes and seas. I played the sink or float game today. It was splashingly awesome. I wanted to make an asteroid. Amma said we can make one over the weekend. And she wrote it down in our plan book.

After my bath and snack, it was video time. I watched OCTONAUTS….Calling all octonauts. Kwazi, Peso, Shellington, Dashi, Inkling, Tweak, Tunip.

Then we had lunch. If you ask me it is the most boring meal of the day.

Then we painted. Hey, I’ll share a neat trick. Did you know we could mix colours to get an entirely new colour. Dugee and the Squirrels taught me this trick.

Afterwards, I went on a rescue mission with the Octonauts. We danced, sang and ran around rescuing sea creatures. Such fun!

I was hungry again. I had my tea and snack.

Then my Daddy Kadiya came home.

The two of us read my science book. It is the best book in the world. There are so many pictures and new words in it. And, lots of sea creatures! Sometimes daddy Kadiya and I dance to music or build with blocks. But, today was a science book kind of day.

I had dinner. It was okay.

And, then I had to brush my teeth. Grrr, I hate this part. But, we have to brush away those pesky germs.

And, it was time for bed. It was dark outside and I went to my cozy, comfy bed with Amma and Daddy Kadiya.

 I am a freelance writer and an unschooling Mother. If you would like to connect with me, come and join me on Facebook.

Gib’s story



Gib stared at the swirls of pink and orange tinged with gold against a pale blue background in amazement. He sank his feet deeper into the soft and slightly moist stuff he was standing on. His uncut mop of hair flew in the air, each strand playing ‘tangles’ with the others. The strong, unruly body of water in front of him thrashed and crashed in tune to a vaguely familiar and a stirring rhythm. Gib took a timid step forward to reach for the rolling water. His feet hit a jagged edge of something buried beneath the soft stuff he loved. Gib winced in pain, cried out and aimlessly hit at the beeping sound coming from his left.

‘Beep Beep Beep’ it made a racket.

Gib hit out even harder to make it stop. He opened his eyes as his hand recognized the cool metal touch.

Gib rubbed his eyes…

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Dark nursery rhymes

Five little ducks went out one day

Over the hills and far away..

Mother duck said quack, quack, quack

But only one little duck came back

This little duck wore a crown that day

Made of feathers that once said quack

Little duck said quack, quack, quack

And he became a king, so they say Gibthey say

Gib’s story



Gib stared at the swirls of pink and orange tinged with gold against a pale blue background in amazement. He sank his feet deeper into the soft and slightly moist stuff he was standing on. His uncut mop of hair flew in the air, each strand playing ‘tangles’ with the others. The strong, unruly body of water in front of him thrashed and crashed in tune to a vaguely familiar and a stirring rhythm. Gib took a timid step forward to reach for the rolling water. His feet hit a jagged edge of something buried beneath the soft stuff he loved. Gib winced in pain, cried out and aimlessly hit at the beeping sound coming from his left.

‘Beep Beep Beep’ it made a racket.

Gib hit out even harder to make it stop. He opened his eyes as his hand recognized the cool metal touch.

Gib rubbed his eyes and looked up at the plain white ceiling of his bedroom. He felt his hair to see if it was still long. It wasn’t. His short cropped hair was intact. Gib felt a twinge of sadness, a feeling which usually accompanied his recurring dream.

“Gib go and get the oranges. You don’t want to be late for school do you?” His mother screamed from somewhere inside the house.

Gib got up, threw on his day robe, picked up his basket from the hallway and exited.

The lone orange tree stood in a corner of their 3 perch garden, amidst a sea of clean cut blue-green grass. Gib tapped the tree trunk three times and held out his basket. The orange tree shook a branch and dropped three oranges neatly into Gib’s basket. Gib looked up in surprise. ” There are four people, I need one more” but the tree just ignored Gib and raised a branch to wave at an official who was riding a grey angry cloud towards Gib’s place.

The official looked stern; his face was just as grey as his cloud. ” Give this letter to your father” he said handing Gib a letter and hit the cloud pretty hard. The startled cloud flew away leaving behind a startled Gib.

His father paled and then blinked hard when he finished the letter. He handed the letter to their mother without a word. Her small eyes widened when she finished the letter and she looked as grey as the official had looked.

“When was the last time you saw Zeb?” she asked Gib.

“Last night, when we said good night to you after the story.” Gib replied.

Gib’s father pushed a red button on their dog and ordered it to look for Zeb. The dog made a few beeping sounds and put up his screen. It showed the map of the whole world. But no dot marked a place indicating Zeb, he had vanished.

“Eat your orange and get ready for school. You can’t miss school. It will look even more suspicious.” Gib’s father announced.

“But Zeb?”Gib began but his mother silenced him with a look. But she peeled his orange for him and poured extra honey over it before handing him the orange on his favourite plate.

Gib went to school as usual. An unfamiliar hollow sensation accompanied him in Zeb’s place.

His future wife, Mea didn’t seem much pleased to see him that day. “Father told me about Zeb. It’s a disgrace.” She said haughtily. “Poor Zain” she added as an afterthought.

Zain was supposed to have been Zeb’s future wife. Zain’s cool grey eyes and the impassive face remained the same as she went about her work with an air of nonchalance.

“She didn’t even make a single mistake in class today.” Mea reported to Gib during lunch. She sounded impressed. Mea and Zain were training to be gift makers and attended the same classes. Lunch was a difficult occasion. Zeb’s and Zain’s empty places at their table looked out of place in the full cafeteria. The other children kept glancing at them curiously but were too scared of the watchful teachers to ask questions.

“What will happen to Zain and where is she?” Gib asked Mea.

“An official came and took her for questioning after the presentation tricks class. They’ll take you too. Just tell them you know nothing.” Mea ordered.

“In any case that is the truth right?” She inquired with a note of anxiety creeping into her steady tone.

“True, I know nothing.” Gib replied in a dull voice.

They finished their platefuls of stew and sipped their milk in silence. Mea spilt some of her milk attracting some unwanted notice from a teacher for her trouble. Gib tried to help her but she brushed him off and wiped the steel table top with the cloth that the teacher handed her.

“Pay attention to what you do always.” The teacher warned her.

Mea nodded acquiescence timidly.

The teacher glared at Gib. “Finish your milk young man. We do not waste food and beverages here.” Gib swallowed the rest of his milk in one gulp.

The rest of the day was uneventful.

However, the hollow feeling inside Gib increased and continued to get worse as he realized his classmates were avoiding him. Mea was the only one who spoke to him during the play hour. But she spent most of the time piling up advice on Gib on how to behave when the officials questioned him.

“Don’t panic. Just act normal and say you knew nothing out of the ordinary. And don’t mention your dreams to them. If you do, we will all get into trouble.” She commanded. Then she added in a softer tone, “If you do they might separate us. I don’t want to be paired with another boy.”

Gib felt an urge to stroke her soft black hair but he fought the impulse. Such behaviours were frowned upon. He didn’t want to attract more trouble.

When they parted that day, Gib gave her his prized silver marble with the blue eye.

“Why are you giving me this?” Mea asked, her voice clenched in fear.

“You were the only one who spoke to me today. Keep it for the night. You can give it to me tomorrow.” Gib replied.

Mea nodded and walked away.


The officials came for the whole family that evening. They were escorted into an enormous steel building surrounded by round pillars. A special agent took Gib into a separate room. It was decorated with miniature circular pillars and globes in silver. The agent took a sample of Gib’s blood and urine and conducted various examinations on his body. Satisfied the agent began asking questions.

” Did you talk a lot with your brother?”

”Did Zeb speak to you about anything strange?”

“Was there anything different about Zeb during the past month?”

“What kind of games did you play?”

Gib told them what he knew. He and Zeb always went to school, did their home work, played with their friends, and shared their meals with their future wives, talked about being excellent medicine makers, just like their father. The agent looked satisfied and led him towards his parents.

When they returned home that night Gib’s mother made redpepper dip, vegetables and meat rondelles, Zeb’s favourite. His father gave her a withering look when he saw the dishes but helped himself to a big plateful without a word.

“Zeb would have licked the plate clean.” Gib volunteered.

“Gib, I do not want to hear that name mentioned again in this house or outside!” his father said coldly.

His mother cleared the table in silence.


A week later the officials brought a charred body. They said it was Zeb. They said he has gone to a steel worker’s house. They said he had tried to work the steel machine there and that he had got burned to death. They said this happens when you go out of your own territory. A medicine maker could never work a steel machine. The governor gave a special speech on TV.  He talked about the tragic story and how it should be a lesson to everybody. They buried the remains. Gib’s father forebode his family to ever speak of Zeb.

Gib’s mother customary shout of, “Gib go and get the oranges. You don’t want to be late for school do you?” continued each morning. But her voice grew terser with each passing day. She hardly looked up at Gib when she spoke to him.

Gib still got up in the morning at 7 o’ clock sharp. He went out for oranges. He went to school with Mea. In school he went to the medicine class alone.  He bumped into Zain occasionally. She was with another boy, a future engineer with a square, serious face. So she snubbed him whenever they met. Mea took the snubbing as a matter of course and continued to stand up to Gib whenever some busybody mentioned Zeb.

During the break he shared a table with Mea. Played with his class mates during the break, headed for the showers afterwards and took leave of Mea every day at the school gate.

On Wednesday afternoons he went to see a movie with Mea and watched heroic deeds of every day warriors who contributed to the common good and were exemplary citizens.

Everything continued without Zeb. But Gib was beginning to feel funny inside. He was not sick he just felt hollow inside. He sometimes wanted to throw away all his books and run out of the class. He wanted not to go to the movies on Wednesdays with his future wife. He wanted to step on the oranges and squash them on the ground. He wanted to slap everyone around including himself. Most of all he wanted to find Zeb. This was strange because everyone else seems to have forgotten Zeb. Even Mea hardly ever spoke of him. She was busy planning for their graduation.

Whenever Gib wanted to talk to her about Zeb, Mea’s pretty brown eyes glazed over. She seemed not to hear him and went on talking about her blue robe for the graduation and the shop she planned to apprentice in.


Gib’s life became difficult with each passing day. The hollow grew stronger with time and refused to budge no matter how hard he tried. He knew he shouldn’t feel that way. But he did.

Nights became the worst time of the day for Gib. He just could not sleep. The hollow inside him grew heavy, stuffy, dark and unbearable.

One night, Gib found it impossible to go to sleep. He stared hard at his pillow. He just wanted the hollow feeling to go away so that he can get on with his life. Slowly it began to loosen up. To his amazement Gib saw something like water drop onto his pillow. It came out of his eyes. For a moment Gib panicked. May be he too was dying. This must be life going out of his body. But what he saw next pushed all else from his mind. Letters began to appear on his pillow. He recognized Zeb’s handwriting. Gib let the water flow out of his eyes.

Dear Gib,

If you can read this it means you are- ready to hear about the new world I found. The water drops that come out of your eyes are called tears in this world. It’s natural. And nothing to be afraid of. In this world we can choose our jobs. You don’t have to be a medicine maker if you don’t want to. Things are different here. We don’t know who our future wives or husbands are. We don’t know what we are going to be. It’s not easy but it’s beautiful.

Remember the dream you told us about. I’ve seen that place. It exists here. It is even more beautiful than you described.

Gib kept on reading.

Outside the orange tree swayed in the soft breeze, a dry leaf fell on the ground noiselessly. An automatic vacuum reached for the leaf like a snake and sucked in the leaf leaving the grass beneath spotless and orderly. A stray cloud concealed the sickle of a moon briefly and drifted on its way.