You will need loads of patience and humour, in equal quantities. Travelling in India is like a reality survival show, but it has its charm, which you will realise 10 years from now while recounting the hair-raising experiences. If like me, you take your kids with you everywhere then you need all the help you can get and more.
It’s like space-travel; you just don’t know what lies there, even though you will constantly be asked “Are we there yet?” And you will reflexively reply, “Soon”, even though you are never really sure. ETA and ETD (Expected Time of Arrival and Expected Time of Departure) are mysterious acronyms that we have picked up from the world. If you do manage the Herculean task of getting hyper-excited kids or reluctant pre-teens ready and all packed to the airport or railway station well on time, you deserve an award right away. Or at least a pat on the back by the spouse? Instead what you usually get is “why can’t we/you travel light?” Oh really? Try getting these into one or two cases/backpacks: spare clothes, diapers, wet wipes, medicines, Band-aids, formula milk, snacks, games to distract, pacifiers, stroller…. (keep adding if you have more than one kid).
And then when you do manage to board the aircraft, you get those dagger looks. Nobody wants to sit next to women with kids. And if it’s a red-eye flight, then absolutely not. Unless you have pre-booked your seats, it’s very likely that your spouse would not be seated near you. A family of four has little chance of getting to sit together. Then you will have to plead with stony-eyed passengers to oblige. Pleading, you better practice that skill. You will need that when you seek admission into kindergarten, regular school and college.
Plead, use pull, push, cajole, and be rude. You are a parent, it’s expected out of you to grovel to get. Airlines lose strollers, so better to check it in and then pray that it arrives in one piece. Also pray daily and several times a day. Pray that kids don’t get injured, lost, bawl, throw things at strangers, vomit in flight or in the train, need frequent diaper change, beat each other or strangers, and if any of that happens, which it will, pray and dig up that smile and patience. And keep that going for the next 15 years or so.
Then there are commands which sound illogical even to you. “Don’t cross the road”. “But it’s a Zebra Crossing.” “Indian drivers stop for cows, not kids and old people, so STAY.” That’s that. “Will I fall onto the tracks if I move while doing potty?” “Yes you will.” “Does everybody’s potty fall onto the tracks?” “Yes, 20 million passengers a day defecate on its 65,000 kilometres of tracks….and a few million on either side of the track, because we don’t have enough toilets so for some odd reason, people walk up to railway tracks to do potty.” “Mamma, what is a lota?” Pretend you are busy.
Thanks to the Commonwealth Games, the whole world knows our dirty secret: we have more cell phones than toilets. If your kid looks at the newspaper which your spouse is trying to read in-flight and asks you (questions are to Moms) “who is this man?” then, while you are stabbing that rebellious Fruity tetra pack with a straw, you reply, “He is
Narayan Murthy, a rich man who is back to making his company richer because he really can’t do that with the country.” He once said, “It is difficult to imagine that 318 million people in the country do not have access to safe drinking water and 250 million people do not have access to basic medical care.
Why should 630 million people not have access to acceptable sanitation facilities?.... This attitude is also visible in the lack of a civic culture in both rural and urban India, which leaves public spaces dirty and garbage-strewn, streets potholed and neglected, civic amenities vandalised or not functioning. The Indian wades through dirt and filth, past open sewers and fly-specked waste, to an immaculate home where he proudly bathes twice a day.”
The kids have switched off. Like Narayan Murthy and the civic planners. You meanwhile can shove your ballpoint pen into the grill around the fan in the train to get it moving, after you have switched it on.
It’s impossible to have a stress free holiday with kids but hey, that is part of parenting…. or life, actually.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash