.. or…. why malls are not our scene. Or.. .why I think malls are terrible for (my) kids.
The April 3rd issue of Brunch carried a cover story called Mall Gudi Days. Going on to say -
What are the chances that you’ll be spending today at a mall? Pretty high we think. Because malls have become our hangout places of choice.
Speak for yourself, dude, I thought to myself. There’s no denying that most of us end up in malls for some reason or the other. Particularly if you live in a place like Gurgaon that began to develop around the same time as malls happened to India. It didn’t really get a chance to let its indigenous markets grow the way they have around the rest of India. I even saw a cobbler in a mall in Gurgaon!
But the first time I visited Select Citywalk after it opened, was at Christmas and it reminded me of being abroad. The carols, the Xmas tree, the tableau, the decorations. I felt a momentary twinge, soaked up the atmosphere and went back to shopping. But the one thing I stubbornly did, was try not to take the kids there. No, there are no serial killers hiding in the wings ready to bludgeon kids to death, but there were a number of reasons I felt it was not for us.
Don’t get me wrong, its not like I or my kids have never set foot in one. But we only go there when we have an urgent need. As far as possible we shop at local markets and since in India most of us either live with family or have childcare, we leave the kids home and make it snappy. If we are forced to take the kids along because of lack of options, then we do. But what we never do, is treat a trip to a mall as an outing. We might shop and grab a bite, but we don’t plan it as… Let’s go to XYZ mall to play today. Here are my reasons why. (PS: this reminds me of a hilarious incident I had written about on the old blog. We were in Calcutta and were being shown around the city. And then someone suggested the mall. I didn’t put up a fight because we were mere visitors and it would be rude to object. As we drove up, the hardcore Dilliwala Brat looked at the building and said – oh baba re, yeh kiska itna bada ghar hai? People laughed at my villager son and refused to believe that a Delhi kid had never seen a mall before :))
- Too much temptation. As an adult I find it hard to resist shopping, so how much harder is it for a child who knows nothing of the value of money, to understand why he or she can’t have that super expensive toy. Why not everything can or should be solved with a bit of retail therapy.
- Too much, too easy. Personally, I think it is easy to just dump kids in the play area and move on. But these few outings that kids get with us are also learning experiences. How to cross a road, how to choose veggies, watch the butcher chop meat, watch the tailor mark and cut…its all about the interaction which is rare when both parents are working and time with them is limited.
- Boring. After a point it’s all about consuming. And then we complain that kids are getting too consumeristic. Whose fault is it if we teach them that the only way to have fun is by walking into a store and spending money? That they can buy one toy every mall visit?
- Learning nothing, getting no exercise. The malls just spoonfeed them and then we complain about our kids older than 4-5 being overweight. They just sit and stare unblinkingly at video games and I worry about them. What are they learning, other than how to move their fingers faster?
- I feel tired. Give us a day at a friend’s home or trekking in a hill station and we come home with our reserves of energy still high. But somehow I begin to get tired with the mall walking, my back aches, I get cranky (that might be a default setting) and I come home drained and sleepy. Somehow the OA feels the same way. Is it the lighting, the air conditioning, the what? I don’t know. Also I hate that our kids can no longer stand heat or dust and have to shop or play in air conditioned environs.
- I hate being manipulated. What started as simple shopping evolved into an entertainment zone. Put a playzone into any crappy mall and parents will go there to shop because its easier. Shop. Shop. Shop. Do I want to walk into a honeyed web laid to ensnare parents who take their kids for a game and end up buying half a dozen things they don’t need?
Now I don’t believe that as adults our lives should only revolve around our kids, but I’ve also realised that the walk down memory lane is more fun than we realise. If you let yourself enjoy a park or some ducks, you’ll suddenly realise that this is not just about them. Its fun for you too. It de-stresses you, it helps you get some fresh air and exercise and it builds memories that are so much stronger than an nth visit to the same mall (where they will see and want yet another damn beyblade!).
It is no great struggle and all it takes is a little thought to ensure that given our hectic lifestyle the kids are kept entertained without it falling into mall territory. I cannot speak for other cities but I think ArtNavy is the most BRILLIANT example of educating her kids in fun ways without falling prey to mall culture. Surabhi doesn’t even go out of her way to entertain Sanah and yet she is giving her the kind of exposure and upbringing most of us can only aspire to. BEV and A at Rainbow Days take their kids to art shows and museums and interesting dinners and their kids are probably some of the best mannered and most interesting I’ve come across. All this just to say that there are some of us out there who do manage to stay out of malls every single weekend even if some weekends we’re shoved in there because the husband is wearing frayed collars to work and disgracing the family.
So anyway, I have also had a lot of parents asking me what the OA and I do to keep the kids entertained. Well for one, when we’re with the kids, we’re with the kids. Feeding, bathing, the works. A lot of that is just interaction and rarely do we get guilted into doing anything because we anyway spend a lot of time with them. It means less coffee breaks, less wasting time (I’m guilty of spending time on the blog but its also why I only write at night unless its a short picture post – plus full days of school and long summer hours of daylight keep them out of the house almost all day) and more efficiency and less sleep but we do manage to have a full life. And when we make plans, we try and find a way to fit them in. If I go to meet friends for coffee, I take the Bean or Brat along if they want to come and carry a book or a set of colour pencils. Buy them a milkshake and we’re good to go. If we go shopping we let them walk around and check out stuff and they thankfully don’t pull down the store so we’re not really forced to leave them locked into a playarea like little delinquents! I have to make a disclaimer here – they’re not natural angels. We’ve had the odd occasion when a heavy hand lands on their butts and they’ve learnt that going out with us is not something they are entitled to, but a privilege and if they abuse it, they will stay home with one parent while the other runs errands. Period.
So anyway, here is a list of things to do in Delhi that we do with our kids. I’m going to ask parents from other cities to suggest a list of non-mall activities so that we have a sort of database. For now, it’s just me. Other Delhi parents, feel free to add to this list.
- The easy one – take them for a metro ride to old Delhi. Most kids have never seen this part of the city and be it parathas, chaat or rabri… the best place for any of these is Chandni Chowk. Go early in the morning and make a good heavy breakfast of it. The Bean went here first at a few months of age I think. Bunged into a baby sling and fed as the need arose while we ate deep fried karela parathas. Yummy.
- Take a walk through Deer Park. It’s cool, shaded, the peacocks call all evening and the kids will love feeding the deer. Take some bread along. Don’t forget to check out the ruins at Deer Park and the corner with swings. It is a massive place so you only see the swings if you go from the Africa Avenue side. If you go by 5 or so, you can walk around for a while and round it off with a good South Indian dinner at Gunpowder in Hauz Khas Village. Just remember its four flights up! (This one’s not for kids but a dinner at TLR – The Living Room is good for adults. Live music -sometimes its pretty bad- food a little overpriced, but an ambience that is unmatched. One night we sat there, the OA and I, and planned our escape from corporatehood. Ahem, all that disappeared by the time we got home.) The Delhi Drum Circle plays there every second Sunday or so, check them out on Facebook. They are very cool and encourage kids to drum with them. So take little Pappu along with a bongo and you’re all set.
- Eat chocolate pancakes at a bakery in Paharganj and take a long walk through it. They have some reasonable rooftop restaurants and the Brat has often sat there and counted stars while the OA and I got through a lazy dinner. Don’t miss the Israeli and Nepali joints. It’s a chance to introduce kids to something other than Asian and Italian food and pretty authentic.
- Go to Lodhi gardens for an early morning walk on Sunday and round it off with brunch at the All American Diner. Carry some bread for the ducks, something light for the kids to eat while you’re there and then go the whole hog (excuse the pun) at AAD – waffles, pancakes, eggs… juice. If you go in the evening you will end up walking with Jairam Ramesh and a number of other VIPs. There’s also a section earmarked by the NDMC for butterflies! Yes… kids will love it.
- Try a magic show at the Kingdom of Dreams. Or a musical. Culture Gully is full of a variety of food options. If you’re coming from Delhi, take the metro to IFFCO chowk and it’s walking distance from there.
- Join a library or a book club. I read to the kids everyday so its not something new but we’ve taken them for a couple and they enjoy the change. Reading Caterpillar in Nizamuddin is awesome. I love Rabani’s energy and the ideas she keeps coming up with.
- Buy second hand books at Nai Sarak and browse the morning away. Sometimes you get some rare first editions of your favourite books. You can also do this in South Ex and CP. Lots of old book stores and no hole in the pocket.
- Stay overnight at the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary and wake up to catch the early birds. While winters are the best time to spot migratory birds, it is a pleasure to go during or immediately after the monsoons just for a beautiful walk.
- Eat piping hot momos while you watch a traditional performance at Dilli Haat. Try the malabar parathas at the Kerala stall, steaming hot Radha Ballabi’s at the WB stall on a foggy night. At Dilli Haat its easy for kids to fall in love with traditional wooden and cloth toys, to want to pick up a nice kurta or lehenga that they might otherwise cringe at wearing and to watch in awe as the old man plays the ektara.
- Try your hand at go-karting. Google it and you’ll get atleast 5-6 options around the city.
- Fly a kite on Independence Day. When is the last time you flew one?
- Go hot air ballooning at Damdama Lake. The lake by itself is nothing much but its a brilliant experience. You can also stay overnight at a number of places if you’re looking for a weekend getaway. It might not be a great place but kids love the idea of staying in a strange place and a new bed.
- Visit the annual Surajkund Mela. It gets very crowded so try and get there the moment it opens at 10 am or pick a weekday to skip the madness.
- Try bungee jumping at the Aero Club of India, also hang gliding, sky diving and paragliding.
- Go to Neemrana Fort and try the ziplining experience. Even if kids are too young, its nice to go on a pleasant day and let them run around the lawns. Inside – not so much!
- Have a butter chicken dinner at Pandara Road. It’s a very Dilli thing to do. Plus that part of Delhi is.. just so nice to drive around.
- Chug along on the Delhi Parikrama Rail Sewa on the two hour ride around Delhi’s tourist spots
- Visit the Mughal Gardens when they open up to the public for a month each year. You might think its no biggie for kids, but hey, imagine growing up and moving out and saying you never ever saw them!
- Eat a midnight biryani the night before Eid, at Jama Masjid. My kids aren’t so big on the biryani but simply love the kebabs. I do it on a night before a weekend and make sure they sleep well in the afternoon. The different sights, sounds and the fact that they are out at night is damn exciting to them.
- Join a riding club and learn to canter. I’ve done it a couple of times and the kids simply love it. Am yet to make it a permanent feature because the Bean isn’t old enough for classes and I hate sending the Brat off and leaving her at home.
- Take a walk through the Jahapanah Forest, the Roshanara Gardens, Japanese Garden, Nehru Park or Rose Garden. Sit down and have a snack when you tire. Bas, ho gaya picnic.
- Spend a summer rappelling, river crossing, and tying knots at the Dhauj Rock climbing camp. You can also do this at Lado Sarai near the Qutub Golf Course.
- Go parasailing at Sohna and check out the hot water springs. This is a winter trip. There is a little Tourism Dept style restaurant and lake there. Nothing great for us adults who have seen better, but I’ve realised that as long as we don’t crib “What shit is this…” the kids will enjoy the drive, the camel ride, the once-in-a-while Coke and chips and come back feeling quite thrilled. It is our high standards that tend to rub off on them and then we wonder when they became such hard to please snobs.
- Go to Asola Bhatti Sanctuary or if you have the enthusiasm, drive all the way to Sariska National Park and spot neelgai, peacocks, sambar, wild boar and much more.
- Go boating at the Old Fort. It’s just a paddle boat ride but if you live in Delhi and don’t take your kids around all the old ruins and forts, it is a waste of the city. Few metros give you a ruin in your backyard.
- It’s not a big deal but make a point of picnicking or at least walking to the ruins in your area. If you live in Panchsheel, Hauz Khas, Safdarjung Enclave – I could go on – there will always be a ruin to take your evening walk through. The OA and I had three favourites near our old home and we even took Orange Jammies for a walk when she visited with us.
- Take one of the many Delhi Heritage Walks and discover the city close up. Try Red Earth for the Genda Phool walks. Himanshu is brilliant and comes up with a variety of walks and ways to save the Genda Phool, the city’s flower markets, pay tributes to Khwajaji and a lot more.
- Watch a play at Kamani Auditorium. Sometimes they have plays suitable for young adults.
- Spend a day at the zoo and take the buggy ride around it. You can share the buggy with another family if you aren’t too large a group. Remember, you cant take food in and there’s only that much of a meal you can make of chips. So time it well.
- Join any one of the cycling groups and take a ride around the city.
- Watch a puppet show at Dilli Haat or check out for Katkatha. The Kathputli Colony is another brilliant idea.
- The Nehru Planetarium has recently been renovated - its a must go to for every child old enough to enjoy it.
- Jeevashram is a great place to take the kids to visit sick animals. You can even adopt a pet from there without spending a fortune.
- The Garden of Five senses (thanks Diya!) is a huge favourite and I must have done at least 4 picture posts about it in the last couple of years. A huge maze, windchimes, camel rides, fountains, dhaba food, the flower show – whats not to like?
- The Rail Museum. Chug around on a toy train, check out the oldest engines possible and have a picnic before you head back home.
- Shankar’s Doll museum is old and dusty but its a change from Barbie and Ken. The Sulabh Museum of Toilets is a funny place and kids find anything to do with pooping and farting very funny. Strange creatures.
Parents in other cities, would you like to join in and tell us what fun things your kids do while staying far away from malls? And oh, if you do a post on this – please drop the link by here so that I can compile it. Join the movement – keep our kids out of malls ! :p