Thai High

So the Thailand trip to celebrate 10 years of marriage happened and I’ve come back with rather mixed feelings about the place. The plan was to spend some days in Pattaya and then hang out with the rather mad Aneela and her delightful son in Bangkok.

It was a long and complicated holiday plan. The OA, kids and I drove half way around the country spending time with friends and family before we took off to Pattaya. I was the recipient of plenty of shocked comments – Taking kids to Pattaya?!

Yes, yes we were taking them. And we had a lovely time. Our hotel was right on Jomtien Beach and inspite of the Brat running temperature 5 days straight, we went out everyday and he lived to tell the tale. I’m glad we took the kids though, because it took us to parts of the city most others wouldn’t bother with.  From the Underwater World to running in the rain around the Million Year Stone park, we saw animals we’ve never seen and generally had a great time.

Bangkok was next and I have to say I was a tiny bit disappointed by my experience. For one, it felt a lot like many Indian cities, just, on speed! Rush, rush, rush. Which is like NY no doubt, but my God the heat and humidity were not for me. I can’t stand coastal cities, so to have to rush around in one, was my worst nightmare come true. Fortunately though, we had The Aneela to hang out with and it was amazing to have an almost local show us around and take us to cat cafes and cute little local parks.

I loved the motorbike taxis and recently someone on facebook suggested that India needed them. I’m not sure if India is there yet. For one, the guys driving them smell good and look a lot cleaner than our local auto drivers  – call me a snob, but if I have to hang on to a man for dear life, I’d like it to be a tolerable if not a pleasant experience. For another, I don’t know if Indian women would be happy to jump on and ride pillion with a strange man. I was most impressed to see women come out of office in their formals and hop on to a bike and zoom off home or to the tube. And finally, the traffic here is far more disorganised, making a bike ride as safe as tight rope walking over a river full of crocodiles. I certainly wouldn’t want to trust a stranger’s skill on it!

The malls were dazzling, prices were decent, but after a point I went nuts. When I got home and made a mental list of what I’d bought, I realised I didn’t need any of it. The consumer culture there is a lot more than one realises and there are huge collapsible suitcases on wheels for sale – shop, fill up a suitcase and roll it home.

I of course indulged myself with the famous massages and the OA and babies would quietly lie down on the comfy chairs with a book and wait for me to be done. I kept begging the OA to try one but he hates people touching him and has never been a massage fan. I finally succeeded towards the end of the holiday and he converted and how! Like all new converts he couldn’t stay away and was most disgusted at himself for not having given it a shot earlier.

The massage parlours also showed me how easy it is for moral and ethical lines to be crossed. The very same parlours that give you a full body massage are willing to, for a small price, give the men a ‘happy ending’. Apart from my rage at the unfairness of men being offered happy endings and women, not, I am also shocked at how easy it is to cross that little line. Unlike the effort it takes to cross a mental barrier and go over to a seedy brothel in a separate district, these parlours are safe, clean, shiny happy places, right in the middle of the regular shopping and residential districts. I could be sitting in a lazy-boy with my child reading a book by my side, while upstairs some guy is getting his rocks off. It shook me up.

I also finally saw what people meant about the flesh trade – its so in your face that you get immune to it after a point. Loads of older white men with young Asian girls, barely old enough to be out of school. The girls are picked up to keep house while ‘servicing’ the men. What an amazing deal. It’s like going back by about a 100 years or so. Young, beautiful, available, doing the laundry, keeping house, submissive, all for a price. We were chatting with the owner of our hotel who said they are called summer wives. That the men all say that this is a great break from their Western life where the women are equal, strong and expect them to help around the house. Food for thought. Where people can buy submission, they will. The desire to be equal, fair, is not a common one. And as women get stronger and less willing to take bullshit, there will be men who will hunt for other options, even if it means paying for them. And there will be women who will be happy to sell them that illusion. Le sigh.

I teased the OA that people probably thought we were one of those couples – he is almost fully white haired now and often gets mistaken for Italian/Lebanese – and I am almost always asked if I am from Nagaland. It was probably thanks to the kids that no one thought I was his lady for the night! Well that and the fact that I was in kurtis and tracks for the entire holiday, not dressed to the nines like those ladies.

What impresses one is the Thai willingness to work hard. Unlike the Western world where shops shut at 6pm and leave you high and dry, shops here are open till late night. And oh the hawkers! At any time of night or day, there are pavements overflowing with clothes, toys, quick eats.  I also learnt something rather interesting – apparently traditional Thai homes did not have kitchens. Even in villages, one home was selected to be the one that cooked and fed the rest, while others were given other responsibilities. Even now, many Thai people eat out and it’s easy to see why. Hot, juicy sausages on sticks, fresh cut fruit, sticky rice and glistening chicken in little takeaway boxes – I could eat all day!

We spent a lot of time on Jomtien Beach in Pattaya and that place was the best example of indulgence and hedonism. Lie back on chairs put out by someone, eat fresh sea food grilled right under your nose and then have a little old lady sit down in the sand by the foot of your chair and give you a pedicure. This is where I drew the line. I just couldn’t stand the idea of looking out at the gorgeous blue sea while my children built sand castles and my husband took a water scooter for a spin, while I lay back, stuffed my face with delicious prawns and a lady old enough to be my grandmother, sat under the hot sun in hijab, and pressed my feet. Call me a fool, but that’s probably what I am, then.

And perhaps that is what I learnt on my holiday. That money really can buy you anything. Except the ability to stomach some of it.

The very cool and rather anal, Cat Cafe. I like cats as much as the next person but they fussed so much and made us wash and sanitise our hands a dozen times - and even then we had to wait for a cat to decide if it wanted to come or not. Err.. whatever.

The very cool and rather anal, Cat Cafe. I like cats as much as the next person but they fussed so much and made us wash and sanitise our hands a dozen times – and even then we had to wait for a cat to decide if it wanted to come or not. Err.. whatever.

The Bean shows off her new slippers

The Bean shows off her new slippers

Stopping by a dhaba for chai as we drove through the country.

Stopping by a dhaba for chai as we drove through the country.

The beautiful Jharkhand roads.

The beautiful Jharkhand roads.

The cable cars at Science City, Calcutta

The cable cars at Science City, Calcutta

A traditional Thai dance performance as we ate dinner.

A traditional Thai dance performance as we ate dinner.

Jelly fish glow in the dark at the Underwater World

Jelly fish glow in the dark at the Underwater World

The beautiful tent over Underwater World

The beautiful tent over Underwater World

Don't pee or fart in a Baht bus!

Don’t pee or fart in a Baht bus!

Don't molest women either. Although the Bean read this as - 'Mama? Women shouldn't sing loudly on the baht bus?'  The Brat then enlightened her. :-/

Don’t molest women either. Although the Bean read this as – ‘Mama? Women shouldn’t sing loudly on the baht bus?’
The Brat then enlightened her. :-/

When you come from India, it's rare that you get to call a plant exotic.

When you come from India, it’s rare that you get to call a plant exotic.

Adjutant clerk bird - well named!

Adjutant clerk bird – well named!

Grilling fresh seafood on the beach

Grilling fresh seafood on the beach

You may say, I'm a dreamer... but I'm not the only one.

You may say, I’m a dreamer… but I’m not the only one.

A very funky mobile bar. And peace prevails around it. I can imagine what the Right would do if we set these up in India!

A very funky mobile bar. And peace prevails around it. I can imagine what the Right would do if we set these up in India!

A light installation made of sunglasses.

A light installation made of sunglasses.

A food court in a mall - never seen one so quiet or classy.

A food court in a mall – never seen one so quiet or classy.

A beautiful restaurant on a quiet lane. Moon River or something.

A beautiful restaurant on a quiet lane. Moon River or something.

Old electronics reassembled to make robots and figures. Chatuchak market

Old electronics reassembled to make robots and figures. Chatuchak market

Did not know they'd moved into the food business ;)

Did not know they’d moved into the food business ;)

Some of us indulged, yes.

Some of us indulged, yes.

The entrance to a mall done up with transparent umbrellas

The entrance to a mall done up with transparent umbrellas

Brat warming a shivering Bean at the airport

Brat warming a shivering Bean at the airport

Cal junta, have I done justice to your famous bridge?

Cal junta, have I done justice to your famous bridge?

The Summer of ’12 – Part 1

Edited to add pics. Now stop being mad at me.

The OA likes to say that I have just always been pregnant or nursing which is why we’ve never visited the mad sibling in the US before. He’s right, partly. But mostly, it’s because we were the first to get married and in the last couple of years there’s been a wedding in the family every year, taking up all our leave. No complaints though, because those have been great fun too. And then this year we decided we were going to go before my brother had another baby or decided to move, or something of that sort. And so we did. Observations follow.

Our first stop was Turkey. I fell in love the moment I stepped out of the airport and the Mediterranean breeze caught me. Everyone thinks they have seen the best Turkey has to offer. Each person believes they saw it in a light no one else did. At least that is what I’ve gleaned across conversations. I feel the same way. That it’s MY Turkey. The streets are clean and lined with flowering beds, the monuments sparkle and the bathrooms are clean (yay!). Bombay could have been like this if our country weren’t so overcrowded and dirty. In some ways it reminded me of Delhi, with the huge lawns where families picnicked and reminders of the past nodded benignly in the background. What really amazed me was how stylishly people were dressed. Smart cuts, clean lines, ageless styles. And how beautifully hot pants and hijab coexisted. I’ve never seen it done so seamlessly. At the Blue Mosque we had to cover our heads and I was given a scarf. Being the earnest sort that I am, I spent most of my visit nervously holding the edges together, threatening to strangle myself and in the bargain, sweating profusely. Thankfully I was in a pair of jeans but another lady in shorts had been given a length of fabric to wrap around herself. It kept opening up to reveal her legs and custodians kept stopping by to tell her to cover up. I really admire those who can do it all day. I know that my half hour there was fraught with tension and sweat and very little devotion.

Bollywood follows you everywhere and we chanced upon a team from India shooting a film with Anil Kapoor and Amisha Patel. The starstruck OA insisted on pictures while I acted snooty. We moved on to Top Kapi Palace and saw a strikingly goodlooking couple who were clearly very aware of how fantastic they were. As we neared them, we realised they were Kareena and Saif!

The food everyone said, would be disappointing and unfortunately it was. I didn’t like anything we ate, except the desserts which more than made up for the lack elsewhere. The OA, who lives by his belly was most disheartened. So when I begged and pleaded that he find a job there and move, his only argument was – and what will we eat? You don’t cook and I can’t stand the food. Oh well, you can’t have it all, I guess – hills, beaches, weather, awesome people, great transport system, history, fashion, I could go on.

We sat at cafes and ate, watched people go by and walked the days away. I didn’t have the heart to leave and the only thing that pushed me onwards was the desire to see my nephew. And so we left.

I loved how Turkey was modern yet quaint. Like this pink house down a lane, near our hotel.

My meals were all about the dessert.

The Blue Mosque by night.

My darling brother booked us the executive suite at the hotel and we got this awesome private balcony and view. That’s me having my morning chai on the railing. Later on I looked back and realised that even the nightsuit I am wearing is a gift from him! 

The view from the lovely cruise we took.

Feeding birds from our restaurant on the waterfront. Kids were going wild.

These wreaths were the rage and you could tell the tourists from the locals by who was wearing them.

Yes, tourist, that’s me. I bought the Bean a bunch and she’s had a blast dressing up with them.

Endless summer afternoons

It’s 48 degrees in the shade and Delhi is not baking but burning to a crisp, like bacon. The proof is the oil dripping off my face. I do my best to not fight it, to embrace the heat. I try and remind myself that there are people across the world who yearn for a bit of the bone warming sun. And I do my best to make the home comfortable, with thick drapes, chilled aam panna, cool creamy lassi and the good old desert cooler that fills our home with the lovely fresh scent of khus. But it’s an undeniable fact that the North Indian summer is deadly and kids on a school break feel trapped inside the home.

For years I’ve flip flopped between summer camp or not. Last year a friend ran a special summer camp at a very special school and suggested I send the kids with her. It suited me because the kids travelled both ways with her and I didn’t have to organise the logistics. Her kids and mine are friends and it worked out well for everyone. I’d even sent them in the earlier years in Delhi because we were locked into our third floor house and the kids couldn’t get out of the house until 6 pm. It just seemed cruel.

This year, now that we’ve moved into our lovely little house with a garden, I decided I’d keep them home. The entire point of a summer break is to give them a break from routine. To let them lounge like lizards and come up with something of their own to do. To let them whine, ‘I’m bored, mama’. And then tell them what my grandmother often told me – ‘Only boring people get bored; interesting people have a whole world of fun going on inside their heads.’ My brother and I hated it when she said that. And yet it taught us so much. We learnt to entertain ourselves. And we learnt to be still.

They say an idle mind is a devil’s workshop, but I disagree.  Left to themselves kids can be amazingly creative and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with some of the things they’ve come up with. It’s not easy, particularly since I work from home and that means the kids bang on my door ever so often with a ‘What shall we do?’ or a quarrel to settle. But I soldier on without succumbing entirely to the tempting air conditioning of malls. Remember this post on keeping kids out of malls?

What is lovely about the new locality is that there are so many parents who parent just like I do. We may have nothing to say to each other (but funnily we do!) but we agree almost blindly on matters of parenting. So each morning the kids go off to have lunch with someone and every 3rd or 4th day I have about 4 kids at mine. They play hide and seek around the house, they paint, they create entire farms of playdough, they lose their tempers and throw the ludo board at each other with accusations of CHEATING!, they drag bedsheets over chairs and create castles and pirate ships and put on feather boas and masks and create stories. On a Saturday the OA plays math games with all the kids while another mother runs them through their Hindi workbook for a quick revision. I do a storytelling activity followed by a quick art and craft session. In case you don’t know how to come up with stories, you can take a little help from this game the kids were gifted (thanks Aneela!) that I thought I’d share with you. It is called Shape Your Story and is very handy to keep the kids entertained. There is a set of cards, a dice and a marker. All you need to do is add to the shape and create something. And that is the starting point for your story. Much fun and much inspiration for the wildest of stories.

What is nice about this system is that each house has it’s own set of games and at another home located at a dead end, they play cricket and football. A third home is  bang opposite the park so they run out and play in the shade. The kids learn to eat pure vegetarian at one home while the vegetarian kids learn that meat will be put on my table even though I will ensure that they don’t touch it. But every single one of these homes offers only healthy homecooked food and fresh fruit. And very limited TV viewing. I couldn’t ask for more or better.

In another two weeks the kids are off to spend 3 weeks with my parents while the OA and I take a much deserved trip to Istanbul and the US. Before we know it, these long lazy summer vacations will be over. Real life will begin and they will never know more than a 20 day break in the year. Until that happens, I want them to know what it feels like for a day to seem endless, a night to be cool and restful, a break to be never ending and a week to be full of possibilities.

I leave you with some pictures of what they’ve been up to.

Breaking a lump of clay to discover Dino fossils. Some of the toys you get these days are amazing. Just right for my geeky son.

The Brat creates an octopus from a couple of sticky straw thingies.

The Bean draws the Taj Mahal from memory on the chalkboard I’ve painted in a corner of their nursery.

The Brat’s latest obsession – big cats. I think he was trying to copy a Serval or something here.

A friend joins them on the mess mat for an afternoon of finger painting.

The Bean’s ladybird on canvas

Planting veggies for the summer

Ek glassy, do glassy…

I’ve spent a good number of hours thinking about the lead in to this post, stuck in traffic for a good 4-5 hours as I was. I came up with 53 brilliant ideas and forgot all by the time I got home at 4 am. Let me share my FB status with you for an idea of what it was like – “One smashed passenger window, a glass shattering in the Bean’s mouth, one landslide, two 4 hour traffic jams, 2 puke sessions in the car, all-nighter-drives, a cloudburst and yet we had a glorious holiday. Let’s do this again, OA!!” Sorry about the spoilers, but lets go ahead and do this in bullet points like we do holiday posts. There is way too much action to do it any other way.

  • Travelling out of Delhi on the Independence Day weekend is a bad idea. Always. We do short weekend getaways all the time and it works because most people are home celebrating festivals. Since the OA and I are not bothered, we’re out, be it Holi, Easter or Eid. But this is one weekend that the whole city heads out and we spent almost 6 hours getting on to the Chandigarh highway. We kept getting FM signal far down the road and even at 11pm we heard the RJ interviewing people stuck on the Azadpur flyover for over 2 hours.
  • You know you’re in trouble when your child pukes all over the backseat before you’re even out of Delhi. Yes, the Brat was in fine form. But the OA and I are experts at this now. Newspaper on the ready, extra set of clothes, sanitiser, wet wipes – all we need is an empty bottle and we get water from somewhere close by, wash him down, strip, powder and change him on the road. All set to get back on the road. The Bean neatly threw up only in the hills once, straight out of the window. Phew. No need for lather, rinse, repeat. A bachelor colleague of the OA’s wanted a ride to Shimla and I was afraid we’d scared the poor man off marriage and procreation. But we had a lovely time chatting with him, he gave the OA a break with the driving and I sat in the backseat for the first time in 8 years. In ten minutes the kids were all over him and the Bean taught him to play Pat-a-Cake.
  • The radio signal ran out and we forgot the darn iPod so no music except for scratchy old CDs. The trip got an extra 4 hours added on to it thanks to the traffic jams crowds heading in the same direction – would you believe we even bumper-to-bumpered it up the hills? By 2am we were all drooping. By 4am by brain was foggier than the mist outside. So what music do you guys listen to on long drives to stay awake? Reccos requested.
  • The Bean spent the first half hour talking on her plastic toy phone and had me in splits – To her best friend – ‘Oh you know my kids, OA and MM, they’re giving me a headache.’ To her fake boss – ‘blah blah blah … and DON’T you call me again on my holiday.’ And finally, a fake flight announcement – ‘Close your tray tables, put off your phones, keep your hands inside the windows for safety and shut your mouth. Have a good flight.’
  • This holiday was taken over by the kids. We had so many plans that were summarily dismissed with a – “You go do that, we’re playing here with our friends.” And so they made loads of friends as usual (initiated by Brat, taken over by Bean). So the OA and I made the most of it by sitting in the lounge with our books and cups of steaming tea and coffee while the kids ran from room to room, to the play area to the *phew* I don’t know and enjoyed themselves. There was a general sense of retirement that I refused to acknowledge at that time!
  • I often whine about the sad state of kids these days, unruly and ill mannered. And so its only fair that I point out when I meet exemplary kids. We met a 9-10 year old and one who was a year older I think. I have no idea why but they took the kids under their wing and I didn’t need to worry thereafter. Disclaimer – neither wished us good morning :p but they were genuinely good kids. Calm, polite, helpful, gentle. I see a lot of kids from Delhi’s famed ‘good schools’ who wouldn’t bother with a younger kid but it started with one of them helping the Brat or Bean and continuing to do so. They played hide and seek, read them books, helped them with their jackets, reminded them to wash their hands and even lifted the Bean up to reach the sink. I think what I loved about them was the humility, the compassion and the absolute lack of any airs. No playing games on phones and tablets, no pocket video game nonsense. And very responsible. Constantly informing us – Aunty, we’re going to room #107 now, we’re on the swings now, we’re going for lunch, should we feed them too? And each time I worried about the kids imposing and brought them away, they’d come back in a while, ready to entertain them again. I met their parents later and complimented them on their fantastic kids and really hope that my kids grow up to be as good. Heck, I’ll even settle for half as good and responsible.
  • Our kids are seasoned travellers now. They’ve learnt to hover over toilet seats in dirty bathrooms, squat in the middle of the jungle, sit quietly and suffer if we’re stuck in a traffic jam, share the music system with us although the Brat does whine if the music gets too slow. “Doesn’t anyone listen to any rock music here?” he growls. They eat at any odd hour, anything you feed them, be it a packet of  chips or parathas and dahi. The OA glared at them for a squeak from the back seat and I asked him to pick one other kid he’d rather travel with. He shut up. And stingy with praise though he is, gruffly admitted, ‘They’re good kids.’ Ah, thank you God, I am so eternally grateful that the OA thinks his kids are okay. We carried the iPad (ah ha!) and lots of books and crayons, but they touched neither, and just looked out and chatted.
  • They’ve finally begun to have turf issues. Don’t sit at my window, this is my half of the seat, hey, that’s my straw and Mama, she’s taken my ratty bit of string/paper/grass/breathed in my air. While its annoying, its good to see them becoming normal siblings as opposed to saints who show Tambi and me up as awful brats. On the other hand, Raksha Bandhan was dispensed with quickly with tying each other rakhis and eating gummy bears. After which they did something that truly exemplified the meaning of the day – The Bean was as usual done with lunch about 50% before I thought she should be. I had just begun to tell her what I thought of that when the Brat jumped in and made little houses and fed her each morsel painstakingly. Yes, this Raksha Bandhan he protected his sister from his parents’ wrath by feeding her lunch. The Bean’s rakhi learning from school: She came  back with a thaali full of handmade rakhis and this understanding of the festival – “Dada can tie for you, you can tie for me and I will tie for the goldfish.” Err.. okay.
  • They also got up one morning and very helpfully brushed, pottied and then settled down in front of a picture window with a packet of biscuits, talking in whispers so as to not disturb the OA and me. I got up and captured what I think is my favourite picture of them. It was an unbelievably sweet gesture to think of letting us sleep in. I did have to get up when I heard the Bean finish her big job and say – Brat, I can’t wash my bum, will you wash it for me? The Brat who has barely made it past the squeamishness of his own bum was silent for a second. I heard that, crawled out of bed, did the job and groggily crawled back in.
  • We barely stepped out of the hotel this time and this trip was full of a lot of quiet moments. Looking out at the rain while eating breakfast, the Bean carefully moisturising and then pressing my feet, the Brat trying to make tea for the OA and I.
  • You know how I always say the OA is a great dancer, fantastic driver, very sporty, boxer, was a good student, great husband, best father, charming, good looking, good natured etc? Well I have just realised two areas in which he is an absolute and utter failure – He can’t tell a joke to save his life and he takes shitty pictures. I made the mistake of giving him the camera to handle, so barring a few pics on my phone, we don’t have much else to show. Those he took are dark/blurry or then I look humongous or else short. (Although his argument is that I am short and stout and it’s not fair to blame the camera – see what I said about the shitty sense of humour?) Next time, I will keep the camera.
  • We had lunch one day at the Oberoi Cecil and I was suddenly glad that we weren’t staying there, beautiful though it is. The kids were playing hide and seek in the lounge. No, they weren’t noisy, but you could hear their feet thumping on the wooden floors and the staff came and asked them to stop. It’s at times like these that I am glad we have the option of a more family friendly hotel. The Oberoi’s Wildflower Hall, Mashobra for instance, has a rule – no kids below 12. They claim its for safety reasons, but its rather obvious they don’t want the noise. I wish they’d have the balls to admit it publicly and deal with the criticism. While I don’t like folks who whine about kids making a noise in airplanes, I understand a hotel wanting to keep a certain mood. I’d personally not give them my business because I have no time for places that discriminate against any age/type/community but I can see that they’d have a lot of takers for that sort of thing.
  • The Bean created a new record in table accidents – she is known to knock over a glass/spill her food/ drop pickle in the orange juice jug/blah blah. This time she bit through her glass in excitement (while looking at monkeys outside the restaurant window) and it shattered in her mouth. There was a split second of – Oh Christ, now she’s done it. Only to realise she was fine. She kept apologising profusely  to me, the F&B manager who came running, the waiters, everyone. It was only after I could breathe normally that I told her it was okay and we knew it was an accident. I think she was in shock too.
  • The morning we were checking out, we used the hotel’s car wash facility. Someone from housekeeping came back twenty minutes later – Ma’am, do you have the spare keys? F**K!!! We rush out and try every trick in the book, including removing beading and slipping in coat hangers etc. Just then the heavens poured forth and we rushed back in, me to deal with the settling of the bill, the OA to check on the kids. We come back out to find the window smashed open. Apparently some driver hanging around in the parking lot suggested they just smash the window. And there we are, the clouds flooding the area, the mist swirling around us and cloaking everything, the rain soaking us to the bone and no window to our car. It was also Independence Day and there was no one available to repair the windowpane. Oh, the helpful driver took to his heels once he realised that some stranger’s window had been smashed on his suggestion. We finally taped the windown up with plastic and cardboard and began the drive home, at 3.30pm. Already too late to get home at any decent hour. The hotel management already heard from me on the phone and will be getting a strongly worded letter soon. Yes, this is where the title of the post comes from – the second broken glass on the holiday.
  • I did suggest to the OA that we stay on one night and leave in the daytime but these are the times when my stubborn (see where the Brat gets it from?) and very conscientious husband makes me want to smack him. This was one of them. A little way up, we were lost thanks to an Independence Day diversion. Further up after an hour of bumper to bumper we were told there was a landslide and a 5km traffic jam – we could see it winding along the hill ahead of us. A cab driver who was ahead, turned around saying he knew another route. We followed him. An hour later he said he was going back to the hillstation as his passengers didn’t want to go that route in the dark. We and a bunch of others who had followed him plowed on bravely. By now it was pitch dark, raining miserably, and we were on dirt tracks. At one point we realised we were well and truly lost when the guy leading us stopped, hopped out and asked us if any of us knew where the hell to go from here. In front of him was a sign saying – Vehicles not allowed beyond this point. We were lost in some military area. We reversed through the slush in single file, so narrow was the road, me walking through the filth and guiding the OA while the rest followed. The kids sat quietly through this all. We forgot they were there, shielded from the elements by a fluttering bit of tarpaulin and huddled under a blanket. At each stop I begged the OA to change his mind and stop at a hotel and get some rest. He refused. And we just got further into trouble. A 2-hour truck caused traffic jam, another wrong turn in the dark. After a point it became a bit of a challenge to him – he was going to get his family home if it killed him. Men. Gah.
  • I fell in love with my son anew. He’s just plain lovable. He wanted to do his math homework on vacation – and he did it. (Dear God, I offer him all the joy in the world and he wants to do math and end up like either his banker father or engineer uncle?!!). Quiet through most of the trip he’d just speak up once in a while with a lovely thought – looking down from the hills at Parwanoo in the dark, the lights twinkling, he said, “Look mama, they look like fallen stars.”  I also shook my head in sorrow and figured that the man who falls for my daughter will have to be twice the man the OA is, to deal with her. The OA agrees.
  • In case you’re thinking we’re off holidays, we’re going for another one – soon.

A watercooler on the table at a dhaba. Desi ingenuity at its best. Now stop calling the waiters for a refill, every 20 minutes!

Watching the sun come up over the mountains while their parents sleep. And stuffing their faces with biscuits. "Look at the cotton puff clouds, mama" said the Bean

The breakfast table view. Sigh.

Frantic efforts to seal the window before we began the long rainy drive back home.


Back … and then forth again

  • All of you got it wrong. No US trip until my passport is renewed. I should have lived at this address for a year before I can do that and with Baby Button coming here in a couple of months, it makes poor fiscal sense to go after a month or two. So we went to Goa. Goa in the monsoons is my favourite place, actually it’s a close second to Kerala. I love Kerala in the monsoons – did that two years ago. I hate the heat in summer and the sea is too cold for kids in winter – so it’s mostly the rains for us. The rivers and streams and lakes are full, the foliage is lush and green in a way no camera or pantone number can capture.  Steaming cups of tea, an unending supply of seafood, room service, comfortable beds, getting drenched in warm summer rain, swimming in the pool while the rain came down on us, the kids were thrilled beyond words.
  • If anyone doubts the increasing fears of obesity, check out a resort in Goa. Huge, and I don’t mean the kind of tyres we whine about and the little dimpled knees we hide. I mean huge men and women appeared out of nowhere and if that were not bad enough, in the most hideous swimwear. They barely fit into their seats, they spilled out of their clothes and they bumped into your in narrower corridors. I wasn’t sure I wanted to constantly buy into the media’s reports on India heading for disaster, but I can’t ignore it any longer. As someone rightly said – why not stop while you are 5 kilos more than you should be. What do you plan to do when you are 50 kilos above what you should be? Surely no one wakes up one morning to realise they have such a large (bad pun) problem on their hands. The one good thing is that I’ve come back thinking that if they can go out in public wearing shorts that are practically splitting, I can jolly well wear them around my apartment complex, something I’ve shied away from for a long time. Oh, and real creepy incident, one day at the pool, a creepy arsehole clicked pictures of me on his mobile phone all the while pretending that he was actually clicking of his son. I was still mustering up the courage to demand that he show me the pics when he left. I give up. Men, many of them really, are absolute jerks.
  • I only recently realised that the percentage of Indians who actually travel and explore the country are few. When we went to Sariska and Dharamshala we only met North Indians and a couple of families from Bombay. Here we only saw Gujaratis and Maharashtrians. I know travel is expensive and we did see the odd North Indian family aside from ourselves, but that’s it. Any ideas if it’s just the cost factor involved? Or am I missing something?
  • Against personal qualms the Bean has been gifted many bikinis this year. She grabbed them with both hands and insisted on wearing them. I figured I had bigger battles to fight and let it go. The nonstop rain made it hard for clothes to dry so it was really handy to have endless changes.
  • The Brat was pulled under by a bigger kid in our complex swimming pool in yet another example of bullying. I yelled, the lifeguard screamed and no harm came, but the Brat was scarred. And there he went in his father’s arms and befriended the force of the sea. There were some scraped knees when the waves spat them back out at the beach, dragging them through rough sand, but on the whole the two of them loved it. The Brat insisted on going into the deep end of the pools too, getting out of his arm bands and practically drowning himself, coming up spluttering and then grinning and going right back. I was proud of him for confronting his fear and conquering it. I keep worrying about him getting bullied and then I see a strength of spirit and purpose that reassures me.
  • Travelling with kids makes you see the city differently. The last time the OA and I went there was sans kids and we drove around on a bike in the rain, soaked to the skin and jobless. We were keen on buying a house there and we went with an agent and checked out a lot of old ramshackle places. But one minute you’re attending raves and hanging out at the fleamarkets and sipping beer on Anjuna and Baga, next minute you have kids and don’t think that would be their idea of fun. So I posted on FB and asked friends for food and shopping reccos and feel really silly now because I didn’t use any of them. We stuck to the beach and the pool and it was mostly raining – water water everywhere and not at all suitable for a camera. So not too many pictures but what I do have, are memories. We didn’t shop much either. We built sandcastles, we swam till my flabby arms ached, we wrapped ourselves in fluffy towels and watched the rain come down while we pigged out on fried calamari and prawns. We did something I doubt anyone else plans in Goa – the Brat couldn’t figure out how the calamari he loved ended up looking the way it did on his plate – So WE TOOK THEM TO THE FISH MARKET! It was a terrible idea in white linen pants because I came back splashed and filthy but I think it was the best time he had. The place was smelly as hell and the floor covered in slime and water and filth. But we saw squid, crabs, lobsters, oysters and wait for it – hammerhead sharks! Last I checked they were on an endangered list so I quickly took my phone out and took a picture of it.  I guess the fishermen didn’t realise that they’d pulled it up until much later and it was probably too dead to throw back in. Or maybe, just maybe, no one told them it is endangered. Any ideas on what could be done?
  • If you haven’t seen a coastal storm, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. The kids and the OA and I took the resort shuttle out to a beach and spread out in the warm sand after being told that the shuttle would be back to collect us in an hour. I with my book on a beach towel. The kids hunting for shells. The OA (OA should stand for over-achiever, not Other Adult) began to build an impossibly complicated sand castle. His excuse being that as a child all he did was muck about in the waves (so where is the problem?)  and now it’s time to build sandcastles. Whatever. But he was annoyingly anal and would’t let me take pictures until he got it done. So I ignored him until two lifeguards came running. A storm was coming. Yes, okay, we nodded, still hazy and sleepy from the warm sun that had shone down on us not two minutes ago. We began to collect our stuff. The storm clouds were on the horizon and surely they’d take their time getting here – not. Within minutes the rain came down heavy and whacking us like bullets. The huge drops pelted the kids in the face and they squealed in shock and pain and turned their faces towards the ground for shelter. What we didn’t know was that the hard drops whack the sand and spray it up and into your eyes. Blinded, we ran helter skelter clutching buckets and towels and hats and bags and books and cameras and phones and babies. The kids were scared and the OA and I worriedly looked around for shelter. We found an old building that I am quite sure was a deserted old bathroom. It was locked so we sat on the staircase, sheltered from the rain for a bit. We got soaked anyway and around us trees bent and swayed and the wind howled, the sea rose up to show us what it is that makes it a force to reckon with. The OA and I dialled the resort frantically for help. The stupid cow at the reception had no idea what shuttle service I was talking about and how to get us picked up.  And in all this the Brat was reading us the riot act. “THIS is why we must never come to a beach. We should have stayed in the pool.” “err.. how were we to know there was a storm coming?” “You’re supposed to know, you’re my parents!” “Right, no arguing that. Except that how can the OA and I, two completely easy going people end up with a son so grouchy!!?  And then we exchanged looks and began to giggle. The more we giggled, the madder the Brat got at us, sitting in my arms and shaking with rage. I think we were laughing in sheer shock. The storm got worse and I prayed for sailors out at sea and the thoughts of a Tsunami began to make their way into my mind. The OA’s too, he admitted later. And all the while the damn resort doing nothing to send our car back. Finally I saw a tractor crawl by with a trailer and convinced the OA that we should find our own way out. And so we flagged him down, bundled up our babies and made a dash for it. I think God healed my knees for those 3 minutes because I ran like the wind in slippery flip flops, carrying the Bean and assorted beach gear. We clambered on after tossing the kids in – the trailer was carrying potted plants and we seated ourselves in the midst of a mini-tropical forest. I half expected colourful birds and poisonous snakes to show up and complete the happy picture. Okay not so happy because my egg-yolk yellow shorts were getting screwed – I was sitting in the slush from the pots with the kids in my arms, the OA futilely trying to hold an umbrella over us that the tractor driver helpfully gave us. I pointed out that we couldn’t get any wetter and then the umbrella turned inside out thanks to the gale and the OA collapsed on the trailer floor shaking with mirth. The Bean shrieked with laughter and the grouchy Brat finally saw the humour in the situation and smothered a grin. The trailer dropped us off the little mud road onto them main road. We thumbed down a private bus who refused to let us get on, filthy and wet as we were. I promised we would stand at the doorway and not sit on his seats or drip all over the bus. He kindly dropped us to our resort. For every bloody blithering nitwit of a receptionist, there are kind souls out there to pick up the load. And oh yeah, the beautiful sandcastle was washed away and we never did get a picture of it.
  • Nothing like your kids being in danger to turn you into a tigress. I told the OA I’d be writing the management a strongly worded letter when we got back. But we both realised that it was just an idiot at the telephone who had effed up the plans. It wasn’t the hotel’s fault. And then we checked the OA’s soaked but still functional BB (yayy!) and saw that there were missed calls from the Hotel Manager trying to reach us and get us home safely to compensate for the logistical error. So they’d done what they could. But then I walked into the reception with my filthy, shivering, no-more-scared kids and saw the receptionist sitting there safe and warm and clean and unconcerned behind her desk and something within me snapped. Not a word of apology or a gesture of concern. She just glassed over. The OA who saw the look on my face and knew what was coming moved out of the line of fire while I ripped her a new one. The kids watched in awe. If nothing else, the Brat got a first hand lesson in self defence and how not to let people treat you badly. I’ve been in hospitality and the first thing I learnt was that you never tell a client – I can’t help you because I have no idea how to. The customer is always right, even when they’re bloody wrong. You begin with an – I’m sorry. And you end with a sorry, and if you can’t handle it, you ship out, like I did. Anyway, all’s well that end’s well and the Brat now tells everyone that his parents can’t take care of their kids while the OA and I roll on the floor laughing, remembering his indignation and ire.
  • I caught up with someone I didn’t think I would ever see, because Goa was so not on the radar. And meeting this lovely lady pretty much made my trip. You think you read a blog and you know someone, but then you meet them and realise they have the most beautiful curly eyelashes EVER. And that they wear their skin like a Chanel LBD.
  • It’s amazing how much people waste at buffets. I never have understood why hotels have them. It also amazes me how people tend to eat at buffets – like they’ve never seen food before. I’m not really on a diet but what I have inherited from my grandmother is her immense self control. So no matter how much I like something, I never eat more than I normally would. Same goes for food I dislike – I still eat the amount I need to fill my belly. I discovered brown rice at the buffet and after a life time of worshiping at the altar of Basmati I’ve decided to change the way we eat at home. I had it two days in a row with a very tasty lauki sabzi ( I hate lauki otherwise) and wondered why the OA was hiding his grin behind his hand. Turns out I was serving myself from the health food counter. He knows I have a huge problem with diets and healthfood (I believe you should try and eat good stuff in moderation everyday – not particularly pick fads) and figured I hadn’t noticed it and was dying under the burden of that knowledge. The day my hand paused mid-air as I noticed the little sign saying ‘health food’, he let the 48 hours of laughter out and laughed till he cried at the look on my face. The Brat too has become quite the gourmet. He’s always been lead by the nose and now it’s quite funny to see the OA, Bean and I sitting on the edge of our chairs while the Brat leans in, takes a whiff and then nods regally – the food has passed muster, and we can dine.
  • It’s easy to see what a person will be like as an adult if they’re as crystal clear as the Brat. He is a stickler for eating in a certain way and needs his fork and knife and spoon. And only takes as much as he will eat, no wastage – walking up to the chef with a plate and a very clear ‘A two egg omlette with cheese, no chillies, please.’ He refuses to pig out on dessert no matter how large and tempting the array, picking one small thing if at all, eating neatly and getting up to wash his hands immediately after. The Bean and he tasted so many new things and I was pleased to see them get started on a variety of vegetables and salads I’d never have tried at home. As a friend wryly said, I’m probably the only idiot in the history of vacations to come home thinner than I left. I blame it on amazing salads, plenty of dessert and lots of swimming and walking and running with the kids.
  • I realised that the kids have inculcated some of my habits. Every night they’d come to bed after pigging out on the buffet or some restaurant and still want a hot cup of chocolate to lull themselves to sleep. It is no biggie, but I am so happy to see them love milk the way I do. I’ve even convinced them that the malai that forms on cooling milk is fine and they lap it up quite happily. We stayed away from the fancier joints and had King Crab at our favourite Martin’s Corner and a little restaurant called Hotel Vinete that is housed in a 200 year old old heritage building, the flooring made from salvaged ship deck beams. The entrance is a collage of beads and shells and bangles and I loved it. The balconies are beyond tiny and the kids sat in it with a table that was barely the size of a peg table (the only other google mention is a private album with public settings so no linkbacks from me).
  • I’m a biker chick at heart. I harassed the OA into hiring a bike on our last day there. We’d been taking cabs everywhere because he was worried about rain. But I told him on the last day that this was it and I was not leaving the hotel on four wheels. The kids freaked out and took turns sitting on the petrol tank. I’d forgotten what a joy it is and  I am seriously considering either getting myself a scooty or talking him into a nice Thunderbird for after office hours. It also restricts shopping because there is only that much you can hang on to when you’re butt is falling off a seat!
  • The joys of being fair, the OA is burnt to a crisp. The Brat, Bean and I are merely dark brown from lying on the beach. How that happened through the endless of rain is a mystery to me. But the OA cannot be touched on the shoulder or back, so badly is he burnt. On our return trip people at the airport must have thought less of the tall fit man who strolled in airily while his smaller wife struggled with three pieces of cabin baggage hanging around her neck and on her back. Yes, he was burnt too badly to even sling his laptop on his shoulder. Next time he’ll take my advice as well as Baz Luhrman’s – and wear sunscreen. My skin? Oh, it still looks like shit. Apparently pimples will now be added to my passport as identification marks.
  • The kids have learnt to entertain themselves admirably. So while we napped in the afternoons the Brat counted coins, stacked them into towers, played with long strands of bamboo leaf and the Bean piled up cushions and pillows and made castles. No TV, no iPad, nothing. And when they did want something – they unerringly went and woke the OA. I cannot tell you happy I was to sleep till 9am because the OA would get up at 7.30am and take them for a swim and breakfast. I did offer half heartedly but they were having none of it. It was Dada or nothing. Oh joy, oh rapture, oh sleep delicious sleep.
  • The Brat once famously told Anamika when she mentioned that she lived in Bombay, ‘Mashi, my dada too lives in Bombay.’ Yes, this is a time when he was travelling alot. So this being the first time they’ve been to Bombay since the mad sibling’s wedding, the OA excitedly pointed out to them that this is where he travels for work all the time. The two sat silently through rain and traffic jams and visits to family members’ homes and then the Bean pronounced, “Okay dada, you come and work here if you want, but I don’t like it. It’s dirty and there are no parks to play in.’ The Brat nodded his assent and added, confirming his true blue Delhiite/small-town-big-house status – ‘And the houses are very small – you can’t cycle or run inside them’ (errr!!) going on to add, ‘but I like Goa and I don’t mind staying there.’ We would all love to live in Goa, darling. We would all love it. Seriously though, have been unbelievably cranky since I got back to Delhi and the everydayness of life.
  • So much for technology. The iPad only got used on the last leg of the flight back. I charged and carried the Kindle but still bought err… 6 books more at the airport – flying just got more expensive than ever. For one, buying on Kindle is more expensive. For another, I rarely buy the same author again. I am always browsing and ending up with new names and genres. That is much easier in a bookshop since the internet tends to point you towards more of a similar kind.
  • It’s funny how you think the kids will drive you nuts but you don’t want to miss a thing. We had every intention of using the Club Mahindra hobby classes and nanny services, but we didn’t end up sending them to a single one. The OA suggested I go to the spa but I didn’t take up the offer. Everytime we thought of sending them, we’d realise we didn’t really want to. And finally we got back to Delhi and thought we’d send them to their own beds but realised we had got used to them too. And so we sneaked into their room after they’d fallen asleep and brought them to our bed. Yes, we’re idiots and I’m the first to admit it.
  • We’re also back home to no maid and an idiot driver, loads of laundry, lots of deadlines and me taking off again on holiday in a few hours. So when the OA watching TV said, ‘Chalo, another disaster averted, I responded excitedly, ‘The agency said they have a maid to send us?! Err… no, said the OA carefully, ‘Greece just got funding.’ Right. Overworked, more specifically overhouseworked is the word you are looking for.
  • So tell me what I missed. What have YOU been up to? Yes, you. Everyone of you. Tell me something special that happened to you while I was away soaking up the rain. Go on, fill me in.

You can see the skies darkening and storm clouds moving in on the horizon

The Brat and the Bean tentatively extend their fingers and toes to the sea… and end up being the best of friends

Isn’t it amazing how much colour children bring into our lives?

No other shot could capture the spirit of the Bean – alive and kicking

Examining the catch at Martin’s Corner

The hot pink I favour this season

The OA insisted I set my little fishies free. And I watched with my heart in my mouth

My personal Daniel Craig rising out of the ocean

One of the many sandcastles, built, decorated and offered up to the sea

The hammerhead sharks we saw in the fish market

The mosaic doorway at Hotel Vinete

Me, in the doorway

The Bean swishes across the shell pattern embedded in the floor

The kids in the tiny balcony window at Vinete

Introducing you to my new sunglasses….

.. and incase you missed it, the size of the hat Ma just picked up. It saves pimply photosensitive skin from burning up – not!

Get away, paparazzi!