Two Weeks From Now…

September 24, 2010

I’ll be leaving on a jet plane!

I’m off, folks. I’m packing a backpack and a Lonely Planet guide and my camera and taking off! I wish I were heading into the mountains, but the place that I’m heading for is almost as good. Of course, eight nights is much too short a time to spend in Rome and Florence… but it’s better than nothing!

We’ve been to Rome and Florence once before, back in 1999. It was a wonderful, wonderful holiday that I should have turned into a book, but I haven’t managed to yet. Before that, Amit and I hadn’t traveled much together. We were 25 then, and I saw everything with the innocence and naivete of 25. When I look back on that holiday, it seems to have much in common with the movie Roman Holiday, which I hadn’t seen at that time. We’d been married just over a year – so we were still in the honeymoon period and that makes all of life look a lot sweeter. There was a real romantic charm to our shoestring budget, first-ever European vacation.

Now? I’m old and tired at 36. I’m as loaded with responsibility as it is possible to be with work, home, spouse, young kids and aged parents crowding the picture. Now I don’t see this holiday as a romantic thrill so much as a very brief and desperately needed escape from the cumbersome responsibilities of everyday life.

Oh, didn’t I mention? I’m going alone, of course. Well, it wouldn’t be much of a holiday if we took the kids along. I mean, Rome and Florence are not the easiest of places to keep two small, fiddly kids occupied and entertained. They’re not going to be so totally overawed by the crumbling ruins of ancient kingdoms, and museums would only be a new kind of playground for them – and a heartattack for Amit and me!

So this time I’m going alone. It is the ultimate in selfishness and self-indulgence. I won’t have to think about anybody else’s needs for eight whole days. I can do what I want, when I want, and entirely at my own pace. I can sit down at some particularly appealing spot and stare at something (or nothing) for two hours without a break if I want to. Without speaking or being spoken to. Without having to organize food, sleep, or a toilet for the kids. What could be better than that?

Yes, I know, I’m a totally incomprehensible mom, I agree. How can I go off and leave my kids for so long and… so happily? Don’t I have a duty to my family? Shouldn’t I want to spend every moment of the holiday with them? Shouldn’t I at least feel horribly guilty about choosing to go away for so long?

Maybe. And maybe, once I’m there I won’t enjoy it as much as I think I will. And of course I’m sure I’ll miss them all. But right now, I feel neither any guilt nor any misgivings about being away for just eight days. They’ll manage. The kids will be fine and even Amit will survive it. And I think I’ll have fun.

Of course, many people have this subconscious belief that you have no business having fun, least of all not once you’re a mom. Your role in life, people seem to think, is to cater to your family’s needs to the exclusion of all else. And that should be fun. Why do you need any kind of fun that excludes your beloved family?

Even in the past, friends and family alike have looked askance on the occasions when Amit and I have holidayed separately. Amit has suffered a long lecture on morality from his brother and plenty of disapproving questions from the rest of his family. I’ve faced a smaller share of disapproval from my family and, strangely enough, from some friends. Even those who are not openly disapproving are clearly puzzled. Why would anyone want to holiday alone, or separately from their spouse?

I sometimes avoid this question by not exactly enunciating that I’m traveling alone. To the casual acquaintance, it isn’t worth explaining. And perhaps I don’t really have a very good answer. The most honest answer would be: Well, I didn’t really want to travel alone, but at certain times we couldn’t always travel together and now with the kids it’s really impossible to do the kind of rough-and-ready travel that we love and to go to the places that we want to go to… so we opted to travel separately rather than either always doing “family” holidays, or not traveling at all. And, now that I have traveled alone a few times, I’ve found that I quite enjoy it. There are certain experiences, certain perspectives, certain moments that you find when you travel alone that would not happen if you travel with a spouse or anyone else.

Besides, a holiday alone is the ultimate in selfishness precisely because you don’t have to be restricted by what anyone, even your better half, wants.

Of course, you also don’t get to share the experience the way you do when you travel together… and there are the practical issues of safety, convenience etc… but it’s not all bad and it’s certainly better than not going at all. And it’s much better than dragging the kids along and then being frustrated because you want to linger when they want to sleep, or you want to enjoy something in silence when they want to run around, scream, throw things, and generally just be kids.

So if all goes according to plan, two weeks from now I’m off for a completely undeserved break. Maybe, for a few short days, I will walk in the shoes of the person I used to be. For a few short days, that can only be a good thing.

The Selfish Gene

May 4, 2009

It’s not Richard Dawkins’s book I’m referring to here; it’s me. I must be the most selfish person I have ever met. I’m so selfish that I actually enjoy traveling alone, because it means I get to do just what I want, when I want, how I want. I might not want to be this selfish all the time – like most things, I expect you enjoy it most when it’s a rare privilege – but once in a way I really like it.

I’m getting remarkably immune to all the funny looks and comments you get when people see you alone in a holiday kind of context. Of course, Goa is an easy place to be alone in that way; specially the kind of upmarket resort that I’m stayed in. People will largely leave you alone, and keep their questions and opinions to themselves. It’s not as easy in many other places I can think of.

This was also an extremely luxurious trip, by my standards. If I wanted to travel without the family because I wanted to enjoy the whole travel experience, then this is not quite the way to do it. I’d have to have a backpack, a local bus, and about one-tenth the budget of this trip for that. Heading into the Himalayas is of course always tempting, but I didn’t really come up with this whole plan early enough for that. Maybe next time.

Although, I don’t think I could bear it. Being away from the kids for that long, I mean. It was more difficult than I thought it would be just leaving the house without them. I didn’t even go into their room to say bye when I left in the wee hours of Thursday morning, because I didn’t want to disturb them. Of course, I had told them beforehand that I’d be away for a few days and I’d be back soon, and I think they understood that. But all the time I was away, I kept hoping that they were ok with it. At the end of the first day, reports from Amit indicated that they were fine, not missing me at all. He thought I might be sad to hear that, but I was relieved and happy. I don’t think that if they don’t miss me it means they don’t love me or anything like that; I think that if they don’t miss me, it means they are comfortable, secure, and independent kids who don’t have any conscious scars from their vaguest memories of their earliest days. And that’s wonderful.

And Amit tells me that they wolfed down three helpings each at dinner, which is completely unheard of, so that’s good too.

Once I was actually in Goa, I didn’t feel guilty about not bringing the kids along It was very hot, and the sea was very rough. They’d have played in the sand for a bit, then wanted to go back. Without their normal activities and with a small subset of their toys, they’d have decided to look for innovative ways to keep themselves busy. That would have driven us mad, and we’d have spent most of our time shouting, “Don’t!” So if they’re home with Amit, in their safe and comfortable environment, and if they don’t mind my being away, this works better. I’m all for taking them out of their comfort zone every so often, but when they are subjected to significant discomfort in our pursuit of travel/pleasure, then I feel horribly guilty. This way seems just so much easier.

Though I miss them and think of them constantly, there are the simple pleasures of not having them around. Like…

After a year-and-a-half of parenting toddlers (don’t forget they were already over a year old at the start of that period), it is really strange to walk into a room, dump whatever you are carrying on any horizontal surface, and not have to rush around moving everything into child-proof hiding places.

And it’s also really nice to be able to sit down to a fancy meal outside the house (at home I often eat while they’re asleep) and actually get through it without once having to drop everything and wrestle with the health and hygiene aspects of two kids in an unfamiliar, public restroom.

Being able to sleep when I want, for as long as I want, without interruption. And likewise spending quality time in the bathroom without them kids banging on the door saying rude things like “Mama, sussu done?” and “Mama, big potty coming?”

And the ultimate in luxury: A big, soft double bed, neatly made and turned down by somebody paid and – more importantly – trained to do it, immaculate white sheets, and FOUR soft pillows all to myself! Ahhhhhhh

Yeah, I know – petty and completely selfish. That’s me… and I’m not ashamed of it.

Lakshadweep, here we come

December 16, 2008

All this time I’ve been thinking of Lakshadweep in terms of islands and beaches; what I’ve only just begun to realise is that it is not just islands and beaches, it is also a cruise.

Of course, when I say cruise, I immediately think of the movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Now that was a cruise. This? I don’t know. We get to spend four nights on the ship, so it’s a floating home to us, but I don’t know whether it’s so hot in terms of luxuries, or, for that matter, facilities. I don’t expect a swimming pool, tennis courts, ballroom and stuff like that, but a large double bed, attached luxury bath with fancy-schmanzy shower attachment, and a private sundeck wouldn’t be asking too much, would it?

After all, we are going Diamond class. Ooooooooooooh my, that sounds so luxurious.

The reality, no doubt will be quite mundane. So far, my understanding is only that you get a 2-berth cabin instead of 4-berth (which you’d have to share) or dorm. Put like that, it doesn’t sound very luxurious at all. It’ll probably be a tight squeeze with the four of us and all our luggage. As long as I don’t have to sleep with my feet in the bathroom, I suppose it’ll be ok.

Meanwhile, we left home on Monday afternoon and caught a train to Kochi. This train doesn’t have AC First, so we had to slum it in AC 2-tier. We didn’t realise that you don’t get any food at all on this train, not even vendors and hawkers passing by. Luckily I had packed masala dosa (!!) for the kids and we all wolfed them along with a packet of biscuits and called it dinner.

The masala dosa was a first, by the way. Homemade, I mean. I’ve been practising my idli and dosa making skills diligently ever since our neighbour-friends invited us for dinner-cum-demo-cum-crash-course. My dosas have improved by leaps and bounds (they were at a level where they could hardly get any worse), but my idlis are unpredictable, which is surprising because I always thought they’d be the easier of the two. Anyway, I’m becoming a mish-mash South Indian, much to my amusement; I’ll be making bisi bele bath next. And inviting people home for idli-dosa breakfasts. Oh wait, I already tried that on my sister.

Anyway, I said fond farewells to the Christmas cake, which was looking rather lonely as we left. The last time I left home leaving behind uneaten cake was after our wedding, when, apart from bidding goodbye to my parents, sister, dogs, cats etc, I also bade a tearful farewell to a wedding cake in my honour that I had hardly tasted. Oh, I hate sweet goodbyes.

And now we’re in Cochin, eating appams and stew for breakfast and wondering what’s with the steamed bananas. There’s constant banging going on around here (literally, I mean; I don’t know about the other kind) so we’re wondering if it’s a belated celebration for our test match victory, or another Taj-Mumbai like situation. I’ll keep you posted, whenever Internet access is available.

Depression Survival Strategy: Go to Pondicherry

June 30, 2008

Unlike the previous depression survival strageties that didn’t work, this one seems to have worked. So far.

Actually, just before we left for Pondy, I was in pretty bad shape. I really had my doubts about how I would manage the trip, what with the long drive and the girls being cooped up, and the court hearing and all. But then, it was not as though I had any option, so on Thursday morning we all piled into the car at 6 a.m. and by 6.15 we were on the road.

As we left the city, I think I left my depression behind too. We had decided to drive ourselves, not take a car and driver, and I drove the last 100 km. This was a big, big thing for me. The last time I drove on the highway, we were in the US. I smashed a Pontiac Grand Prix (flipped it 360 degrees, actually) and we were lukcy to escape unhurt. It’s an accident that I still have nightmares about. In India, 100 km takes 2-3 hours (especially with an extra 20 km detour for a wrong turn) and I was tense the whole time. But we survived.

Pondy was hot and humid and the hotel room was icy cold. Somehow, the girls didn’t catch cold, though Amit did.

Our lawyer was actually mostly human this time round. She even almost smiled once. Plus she answered all our questions, and patiently explained the whole convoluted process about two or three times over so that we now feel thoroughly confused (whereas we earlier only felt completely in the dark).

We spent from about 9.45 till about 11.45 in the courthouse. It was tough keeping the girls entertained and sort-of quiet, but we had a bit of help from all the strangers who were milling around.

Since we had a whole extra day in hand, we decided to drive to Auroville and Auro beach. The beach was a fiasco. Though the girls had enjoyed the swimming pool when we took them several months ago, they hated the beach. The didn’t like the feel of the wet sand on their skin and the roaring of the breakers (tide was coming in) the rushing water, and the way it pulled under their feet as it went out scared them.

But they enjoyed running around and playing at the Visitors’ Centre in Auroville.

I took a long, lovely swim in the hotel pool – it was fantastic. A completely peaceful poolside environment, nobody else in the pool, and the water was so clear I could see every molecule of the tiled bottom. Of course, it was only 4’3″ deep, but that works just fine for me. The only problem was that they had dumped SO MUCH chlorine (or something) in the water that my eyes were burning for well over an hour afterwards. But, in the change room they had this shower that sends shooting jets of water out horizontally – there must be a name for it, but it was the first time I was meeting this contraption and I didn’t have a formal introduction, so I wouldn’t know – it was amazing. Just for that whole swimming and shower experience, I don’t mind going to Pondicherry once again. I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it though…

So in general it was a good trip. I drove again on the way back – it was a divided road, which was challenging in its own way. I was still scared, though. But I suppose after ten years it’s high time I laid that old ghost to rest.

And now, it’s back to life as usual, complete with defunct toilet, thermostat-less frig, tax filing date, diet and exercise, and all the other woes of modern life.

Back from the fishing camp, without any fish, but without drowning or getting eaten by a croc

February 4, 2008

Perhaps a wilderness camp is not the easiest place to take two small kids for their first holiday. Staying in a tent, no electricity for much of the day, no hot water… At least we had a limitless supply of Cauvery water, which is more than you can say of the water supply at home.

This time, we went to Cauvery Fishing Camp at Doddamakkali, not Bheemeshwari, where we’ve been several times before. We got extremely late leaving home, due to various complicated reasons including changing a tyre on the car (the puncture was a couple of weeks earlier)(don’t even ask), playing tennis, eating a nice but ridiculously expensive breakfast of Post’s banana nut crunch… Oh and doing the packing, too.

The distance to Doddamakkali is only 150 km, so we had expected a leisurely 3 hour drive, but after the first 80 km on the Mysore highway, we turned off the highway at Maddur and the road surface deteriorated considerably, so it took us a little over 4 hours, with a half-hour stop to give the kids lunch at Kamat. (Apart from the last 8-km mud road which leads to the camp, this is also the road to Shivanasamudram.) The last stretch of 8 km was pretty interesting, winding through arid forests and sloping hillsides before finally descending steeply through a series of swirchbacks to the campsite by the river.

The location was very scenic, the river broad and lazy, studded with rocks, fringed with greenery. There was a beach of sorts, with soft white sand. Civilization was as far away as could be with the 8-km mud track between us and the nearest settlement deterring all but the most determined visitors – usually those who, like us, had paid up in advance and weren’t going away without getting their money’s worth.

There wasn’t much to do at the camp. After a late lunch and a lazy afternoon snooze – me and the kids tested out the hammock and managed not to fall out – there was a coracle boat ride, followed by fishing classes for those who were interested. I wasn’t, nor were the girls, but we watched the trainer expertly throw out a line that seemed to hover in the air before flying straight out to a point in the middle of the river. A short while later, the line gave a jerk and the man scrambled to his feet and pulled in (no reel) a small fish which, he said, was a mahseer. After being duly photographed by various eager “students” (some of them more interested in grilling and eating the fish than in catching it) the poor fish was gently returned to the water.

We spent the evening sitting around the largely unnecessary campfire (it was quite warm enough without the fire) eating spicy barbecued chicken and drinking beer. The kids entertained themselves by throwing sand on the table and putting some of it in their mouths whenever they thought we weren’t looking.

The next morning I insisted on being taken for what they called a trek, what I called a morning walk, and what Amit called a walk in the park. What this entailed was walking 15 minutes uphill along a narrow path in the grass, with sweat pouring off me at 7.30 in the morning, and sliding back down the same path in 10 minutes flat. Apparently, there was an option to go around the long way and return along the river’s edge, but the guide was extremely reluctant to let me go that way. Probably afraid, speculated Amit. What if some locals saw him alone with a woman in the bushes???

A leisurely breakfast occupied an hour till 10, and then there was only time enough to bathe and dress before leaving at 11. Lunch at Kamat, and we were back home a little after 3.

On the whole it was a not-bad experience. I wouldn’t say the kids enjoyed it entirely – they did get fidgety with the long drive, and weren’t always full of smiles and good cheer the way they are at home. But, apart from being really hungry before their dinner was ready, they weren’t too put out by it either. They fell asleep easily at night, slept soundly, and woke up after 8 the next morning!

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