While I love the idea of the kids going to India, meeting family and friends and partaking of all the crazy, it has hitherto always been an experience ranging on painful to tolerable with bouts of illness thrown in. Hence the term India Boot Camp, whereby I usually lose about 5 kg from the running around and serious illness post the trip every year. Last year was the exception – we found that the kids were able to do stuff independently and were actually enjoying themselves, leaving us time to breathe if not exactly smell the roses.

So we had positive expectations of this year, which I tried hard to temper because there’s nothing like an India trip proving to be a disaster (as I should well know). To add to the chaos fun, I had a cousin each on either side of my family getting married in Goa, so we had a third destination to the usual Bombay-Bangalore extravaganza.

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We flew in on Cathay Pacific after ages, instead of the usual Jet Airways. Usually the Cathay tickets are uber expensive, but we booked well in advance plus V was able to get his ticket on miles thereby offsetting the additional cost. The huge bonus of this flight is that it lands in Mumbai at 10 pm, which is easier on everyone all around. Plus, the flight was really good – the food, the entertainment, and even the service (Cathay air hostesses are notable for their hauteur on the India sector, but I found them fine this time).


The experience was especially remarkable compared to Jet Airways which used to be my favourite airline, but has degenerated so badly. Not to mention that they completely screwed us on our domestic flight, by cancelling the direct flight from Bangalore to Goa, rebooking us on one that flies through Bombay (!) thereby ensuring that we would have missed the wedding we were going to Goa for, then refusing to book us on an earlier day unless we bought the tickets at full price (we had got all four tickets on miles, thanks to our advance planning), and finally trying to suggest that we pay a cancellation fee for getting out miles refunded (!).

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My parents had a 40th wedding anniversary celebration in Bombay. I had been quite a grinch about the whole thing initially because I didn’t see the point of a party. We would have rather taken our parents on a nice holiday instead, but that couldn’t happen owing to the two weddings, plus for some reason my dad who is usually antisocial was in the mood to host his friends. In the end, it was rather sweet.The day started with mass, where we were sitting on the front row and Nene loudly asked: “When’s the party starting?” While I am no longer a church-goer, I used to enjoy the occasional service when I did attend, but not anymore. I felt like a sober person at a party where everyone else was drunk.

My parents had booked a room at a restaurant for the party, which turned out to be great. Initially, we had decided to do it at home simply because my mum thought there was too much work involved in organising an event. In this case though, nothing had to be organised except the cake for them to cut. It was a gathering of about 40 people, and I think everyone had a good time – well, at least my parents did. Maybe one day I will post the speech I wrote for my parents here, as a tribute to them.

***

I must concede that the Bangalore leg is easier on us than Bombay, because my in-laws have a yard. Also, my FIL has splurged on these little motorized vehicles for the kids that they entertain themselves by driving around endlessly. Our niece who is the same age as Nene practically stayed over the entire time, plus there is another older cousin living next door so we were basically around to remind them to eat, sleep and take the occasional toilet break. Which is how India trips with kids are supposed to be, according to me.


We stayed over at both SIL’s houses this time. One had a huge party for over a 100 guests or “just our first circle of friends” as she put it (my own first circle of friends is about 5 people). Christmas was at the in law’s place and while drama ensued over the work to be done, I was not involved (in the drama, not the work. Since my kids are older, I have self-appointed myself chief washer-upper at the in-laws place, seeing as I am kind of unfit for other traditional duties). One day we went to this indoor science-themed play area called Explorium on the outskirts of Indiranagar. It was pretty cool, though the kids discovered the upper level on 15 minutes before we were ready to leave (as always happens).


I did not eat an Andhra meal, partly because I was traumatized from the last time we went to Nagarjuna and I had to fend off Mimi’s meltdown. But I ate a superb breakfast every day (idli, dosa, appam and stew, iddi appam, neer dosa) cooked by a cousin’s wife. We visited the FIL’s farm, which I’ve decided is lovely what with the acres of trees, cows, geese, emus, and sundry animals, except the family as decided it’s probably best to sell it. I feel like the husband would do well as a farmer.


The only off note was that V got into this weird phase where he would refuse to help me when I asked him to help out with the kids and basically was on a mysterious and extended sulk for four days which lasted through Christmas. Apparently, I was speaking rudely to him, but you’d think he might just raise that issue instead of like going on the silent treatment, which I then reciprocated in kind. Unproductive and sad. The problem is that we aren’t used to working together I guess and have effed up communication strategies. It got better in the second half of the trip.

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Then began our Goa leg. On the one hand I was looking forward to it. On the other, we had the whole extended clan down and I was wondering how we would balance meeting up and spending enough time with parents and the sister who I see only once every two years. In terms of actually bonding with immediate family, I had figured renting a house in Goa in which we could all stay would be easier (though crazy expensive at the time we had to be there) than squeezing into our parents flat in Bombay.

In that regard, it was a success. The house had some issues, but by the end of it, sister was musing about us investing in a holiday home in Goa. We had enough space, though we still managed to wake each other, because every sound carried in that house, plus there was a rooster that started crowing at 5 am and never stopped thereafter.

The beach was a short drive away – we had hired a car and my dad drove down so we had one handy – and we went every single day. After day 2, V was like “are you planning to go to the beach again?” and I was incredulous because what else do you do, especially when you have kids? I pointed out that when we had kids we went twice a day, only breaking to eat and nap, but he was not impressed and threatened to go to Margao (which is the opposite side of Goa) in pursuit of some sausage bun which he had eaten around 15 years ago. I thwarted that plan, and got him choriz buns from Infantaria and he ended up eating all three (well, he enjoyed them so much that I let him have the last one and then discovered Infantaria had packed three instead of four so there was none for me boo!). We were also at the beach by 10 am while other cousins would only traipse out of bed at 12 pm, so we missed a lot of shack bonding but we got enough time to mingle because there was a party every.single.night. Not complaining though maybe it got a bit much for V.

The weddings themselves were fun. The first one was unexpectedly more fun than the second maybe because the kids were well rested, and there was confetti and I believe that confetti must be a mandatory component for weddings with kids because even though confetti is just balls of thermocol, it provides so.much.entertainment. Also the band was great and the kids danced non stop. And by extension so did we. It’s been a while since I danced with V, which is a shocker considering we pretty much met and cemented our relationship on the dance floor.


The second wedding, the kids ended up getting sleepy one hour into it and though the saving grace was that we were staying at the resort itself, we weren’t entirely comfortable leaving them in the room by themselves, so we had to traipse up there every 20 minutes or so, until V got fed up and went to sleep. Unfortunately, I missed the whole masala section which is the thing I love dancing to at weddings.

It was nice catching up with cousins but I also think I’m not as connected to them as I used to be. Or maybe I’m older and other people’s foibles irk me more than it used to. It still was nice though. Cuter still was to see the second (or third) generation of cousins making a connection and using the three days with each other to roam around in gangs of various ages making mayhem. Goa was where my sister’s daughter Sisi and my kids really bonded, though it did mean Mimi was a bit left out or cast in the role of monster again.

***

And then it was back to Bombay. Although I had only two days, it was quite action packed. We did a family lunch at Saltwater Cafe. I had heard so much about it, and was ready for a break from the Indian food. However, I thought the food was good, but not amazing, though the ambience is nice and the service friendly (considering we had three quite raucous kids, though they were outshouted by the gang of ladies behind us).

In the evening, all the ladies and Nene ended up getting mehndi done. Sisi had been promised a henna tattoo in India, after my BIL came to collect her from school just as she was to get one there in San Fransisco. But in Goa, the ideal place for the henna tattoo, my sister realized Sisi was to be the flower girl for the weddings and so best not to have a henna tattoo. They have literally one day in Bombay to find someone, and a friend’s mum came through with a contact of a lady who would do it. Since she specialized in mehndi we suggested Sisi get that instead of a ‘tattoo’, and when we saw how intricate and beautiful the work was, all of us wanted one.


That evening my sister left with much pressure to visit her in the US.

The next day was dedicated to last minute shopping. V convinced me to go with him to Bandra market, and I have to say I enjoyed it. There are so many old school shops there. I ended up picking up activity books for the kids, hair clips for me, and sports bras from a lingerie shop run by men. Then, I spent an hour (or more) in Cotton World challenging myself to put down some items. I really should venture beyond just that one shop. Also, this meant that I didn’t have to time to buy gifts for anyone, and the spicy banana chips I love.

The thing is that our flight was scheduled for a 11 pm departure, which meant we left for the airport around 7.30 pm, which I am fine with because at least the kids walk through the airport awake instead of being channeled along groggily.

I must say I am more and more impressed by Bombay airport. First of all, it looks lovely on approach. Then the shops are great, and not crazy expensive luxury brands only. They have a kids play area, and even two golden retrievers for children (or people?) to pat! The food choices are good. The toilets are clean. The drinking water fountains work. On arrival into the airport, the corridors are lined with amazing art. This is the first world in India, and it starts at the approach road to the airport which auto rickshaws are not allowed to ply on. It is unreal, but I appreciate it’s execution because money is spent on many things in India, but the result often falls short.

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At the end of our trip, we had heavy bags. Among them was the bag of medication I took for the kids that was relatively untouched. I am sitting on the couch eating the one packet of spicy banana chips my dad managed to find in the house and I had a lunch of Goa sausage. I am – touch wood – healthy, if tired and afflicted by a painful tonsil.

It has been our best holiday to India ever.

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