I Don’t Think I Like This

July 12, 2010

Amit is off to the mountains again. For a trek. For three weeks.

I shouldn’t grudge him this. When we decided to have kids, I knew I would have to give up travelling. I knew I’d have to give it up for several years, at least, and after that, if we did return to it, it would be very, very different. So I did all I could before the kids came. I took a three-month break from work and spent it in the mountains. That was in 2005; and after that, our treks in 2006 and 2007 were an unhappy bonus, granted to me by the same Fate that denied me the babies I wanted to have. But at last, in 2007, our babies came home and we started on a new journey called parenting.

At that time, I was resigned to giving up travel the way we knew it then. Because, after a while and a lot of miles, you begin to feel like a marble rattling around in a tin can. I had realized that if it is a family you want, then travelling, no matter how much fun it might be, is not a substitute. The more I tried to relish the freedom of travel, the more I wanted, paradoxically, something that would tie me down, something to go home to, something to dedicate myself to for practically the rest of my life. Irritating, but true – you can have too much of a good thing.

We’ve travelled a bit after the kids came. According to Amit, we could have done a lot more, and a lot more adventurously, but I don’t agree. Travelling, the way we like to is such a selfish activity. It’s all about our own enjoyment – and there’s nothing wrong with that, but when you begin to drag two little girls around and subject them to significant inconveniences and discomforts, when they’d much rather be playing or sleeping in their own home… it all seemed more than a little unfair to me.

So we go with them to more safe and sanitized places than we used to. Of course, Binsar and Lakshadweep might not be everybody’s idea of a safe and sanitized vacation – nor Devbagh and Cauvery Fishing Camp (Doddamakkali), come to think of it; especially when you consider that two of these four places don’t have electricity and all of them don’t have a reliable doctor anything less than two hours away… but I agree that we didn’t do anything really adventurous, like going off for a trek in the Himalayas or heading for, say, Tibet or Outer Mongolia (both being way up there on the list of places to visit next).

I always knew I’d give up travelling with a pang of regret, but I’d give it up nevertheless. The problem with travelling is, to do it properly you have to make a job, even a career out of it. Vacations are just not enough. One or two weeks – or even one or two months – of travel each year does not make up for the rest of one’s life. Those who’ve been reading this blog for a while know that parenting was not something that came quickly or easily to me. The decision was slow in the making, and even slower in coming to life. It was definitely not something that just happened to me – I had to go out of my way – far out of my way – to make it happen. So by the time it happened, I was sure of one thing if nothing else – I really wanted to do this. Even if it meant giving up the joys of rattling around like a marble in a tin can.

Amit always maintained that even when we had kids, we should travel. At any rate, he said, when I expressed my reservations, he would travel. I had no objection – I privately thought that when push came to shove, he might not want to. As it turned out, what he wanted was for all of us to travel together, but without making any significant change to our rough-and-ready, backpack style of travel. He didn’t think much of my objections to how the kids would handle it. He thinks of travelling more as a broadening of horizons and perspectives, even educational in value, and less as a selfish indulgence. In his book, travel is good for the soul. The kids, he said, would love it. I remained stubbornly unconvinced for the most part.

He surprised me recently by acknowledging (spontaneously, albeit reluctantly) that the kids were not really of an age yet to go trekking with us; but he assesses their tolerance of discomfort at a much higher level than I do.

In any case, Amit never attempted to give up travelling. He would have to travel for work, of course, when occasion required, but he steadfastly maintained that he would continue to travel for pleasure as well. And he would do his best to make me come along, kids in tow. When the kids were not even two years old, in a moment of madness, he persuaded me that it was not such a bad idea to take them on a flight to Leh. Thankfully, the flight got cancelled, so we never had to put this crazy venture to the test. We took them to Chandigarh and Kasauli instead, where they got sicker than they have ever been before or since. (If you really want the gory details, read this.)

Last year Amit called off his trip to the mountain for unspecified reasons, so this year he was long overdue for a trek. My going was out of the question, of course – I have very little leave. So he planned to go on his own. He had no enthusiasm for it, though. It’s been a whole year since he went anywhere for business or pleasure and he’s not used to going away any more. He misses the kids even when he spends an evening away from home, so the prospect of three weeks seems like eternity. It’s worse now that the kids are old enough to understand and express things. We’ve been talking to them about Amit’s upcoming absence, of course, and told them where he’s going and what he’s going to do. We showed them Amit’s tent and sleeping bag, and showed them plenty of pictures of a previous trek in Ladakh.

On Sunday afternoon, Tara woke up from her afternoon nap, came to me, snuggled into my lap, and asked in a small, wistful voice, “Ladakh is very far away?” It almost brought tears to my eyes – and I’m not even the one who’s going away! Mrini wanted to know, in a more matter-of-fact way, whether I was going as well, and if so, what would she do, where would she stay? They haven’t yet thought of asking why he has to go there and do that… at least, they do ask why, but they accept “to walk in the mountains” as an answer. In another year, I’m guessing, that won’t do.

The weekend passed in a flurry of activity. We tried our hardest to get a tenant for the apartment before Amit left, and whatever free time was left from that endeavour went towards getting Amit prepared for the trek. Trekking involves so much more preparation than a more ordinary holiday – you need so much more equipment! Medicines, shoes, absurdly heavy warm weather clothes, tent, sleeping bag, pots and pans, plates and spoons, all kinds of emergency and contingency equipment such as needle-and-thread, matches, candles, cutting implements, rope, crepe bandage… the list is complicated and endless!

For two nights, our dining table was piled high with a mass of assorted stuff. When I fell asleep, exhausted, last night at midnight, a few parts of it were just becoming visible. Amit watched the football, caught up on office work, tidied up odds and ends of household chores, and cleared the dining table. He got to bed at 4 a.m. When I woke up at 6, I found the dining table largely cleaned up, and three huge sacks neatly assembled in the living room. At last, it was beginning to look like he really was going for a trek!

It’s the strangest departure he has ever made from home. His mind is full of work and household tasks left undone. I’ve been given a long list of tasks to complete, right down to filing his tax return if I can (yeah, right – I can barely manage my own). His eyes are missing the sparkle of the impending trek, his voice is toneless, and a teary goodbye to the kids at school was just a heartbeat away – but they ran off giggling and spoilt it! All the same, I’ve never seen anyone this reluctant to leave on a holiday – and when you consider that it is Amit leaving for a trek in Ladakh, it is completely… unexpected is the best word, though not incomprehensible perhaps.

Strangely enough, this time we both felt compelled to consider the worst-case “what if” scenario – though there’s really no reason to get that melodramatic about what is, after all, just another trek in the mountains. It’s just that the entire spark of travel is missing from this venture and it’s more like he’s dragging himself off for some particularly tedious obligation instead of embarking on yet another exciting rendezvous with the mountain gods.

Meanwhile, I’m completely, unabashedly envious. I watched him pack and wanted to pull out my own stuff and throw it in the sacks as well. I can see in my mind the fantastic landscape he’s soon going to be walking through. I can feel the peace and solitude of that ethereal place. I can hear the tinkle of the horses’ bells far away in the vast, silent, eternal universe. I can feel the weight of everyday life falling off my back as I hoist my backpack and become a wanderer once more.

But even as I envy him the trek, I can quite understand how leaving home is breaking his heart. Kids do that to you. Three weeks is a long time.

We were lucky that we shared ten great years of travelling together. And we are happy to be on this new journey called parenting. And we can still choose to take our more adventurous holidays alone, while the kids enjoy the comfort and security of home. And we all know that you can’t have your cake and eat it too…

But I don’t think I like it!

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