By Chandrima Pal Apr. 15, 2019
Travel plans have done what TV could not – divide the Great Indian Middle Class Family. Our #wanderlust no longer accommodates the now-unfashionable image of three generations of our thepla-quaffing family, waving from a snowy background.
ummer holiday season is nearly upon us. Which means, say hello to chuskies, streets stained with over-ripe jamuns, and intrusive ads promising you excellent deals and Jain food in the embrace of the Alps. But have you ever noticed how all those shiny, happy travel ads rarely ever feature a multi-generational family, barring the odd British Airways commercial? You know, like a dada-dadi, nana-nani, munni, mummy and papa on a luxury cruise? Or waving at the neighbours on Facebook from the cable cars on Mt Titlis? Nope.
Travel plans have managed to do what TV could not. Divide the great Indian Middle Class Family, right down the middle. The canny people at the vacay biz have figured out, that the Indian Travel Dream is no longer that Doordarshan show that would bring the entire family together at the same time, consuming the same thing. Even for a business that peddles outrageous lies (paneer butter masala is NOT the national dish in Switzerland and Little India is NOT where you want to shop in Singapore), there is no holiday package that would work for all three generations of the Bhatnagars or the Bhattacharyas.
Vacations, for those who grew up on Rasna and watched dad buy his first Maruti, used to be a big family affair where someone managed to pull off a Herculean task – get three or four generations of family members to agree on everything from destination to mode of travel, stay, food and even what to pack. Every second year, the word LTA would hang over our heads, ripe with possibilities. Leave Travel Allowance was that magic wand that would lead us to many splendorous doors from Rajasthan to Himachal, Kanyakumari to Kashmir.
It was almost always the father who’d decide and execute these plans with a kind of precision that would put travel planners and event managers to shame.
It was almost always the father who’d decide and execute these plans with a kind of precision that would put travel planners and event managers to shame. Imagine a group of eight or ten people, aged three to 83. Men in dhotis, women in billowing sarees, boys in flared pants, girls in dungarees. All sliding down the snow piles of Rohtang Pass. Or the same group negotiating the mad waves off Kanyakumari in a boat that has seen better days. From buses that would drop you off at unfamiliar locations, travel agents and weather that would betray you, stomach bugs, sudden craving for roshogolla in the middle of the night in Srinagar, the culture shock that is Hyderabad biryani for a Bengali, near-accidents on treacherous Himalayan roads, and sharing bunks on long-distance trains, vacations were completely uncharted territory in the days before TripAdvisor and Weather.com.
Here’s how it is likely to pan out now.
Your grandad is perhaps not interested in spending time counting beads at a Rishikesh spiritual homestay – hot air ballooning over the Grand Canyon is probably right up there on his bucket list. And that sweet grandma who has spent a large part of her life making pickles and puran poli, probably wants to encounter a Royal Bengal Tiger in the wild, while sitting on top of an elephant. The grand aunt or uncle may be eyeing some “me time” at a Kerala retreat. While you are simply dying to get on a one-way flight to Budapest. Imagine getting all of you together, on the same flight or train or boat or SUV, and counting on the Gods of Family Vacations and your father’s or mother’s infinite patience and wisdom, to survive.
If somehow, there is a surly teenager thrown into the mix, it makes for one heck of a Molotov cocktail. Example: A friend in the US, who was planning this fantastic reunion over a three-city tour in India, had to leave his wife and teenaged kid behind minutes before they were about to leave for the airport. Because, Playstation. Back home, one tight…. would have done the trick. But we shall leave that kind of violence to the election circuit.
Getting everyone to agree on the destination is perhaps the easier part. Making sure that the much-awaited trip goes off smoothly, without anyone breaking a leg, bursting a vein, or getting left behind, is the big challenge.
First up, there is no travelling light when your travel group ranges from four to eighty-four. Giant boxes of pills and colouring pencils sit alongside snacks and storybooks and boxes of Ensure and Pediasure. Ordering a meal at any time, will test the patience of the Zen-est of team leaders. There are “days” to be observed by the seniors, as the 15-year-old daughter will have decided she is allergic to gluten. The son wants his burger. Baby wants to take a poop just when you have started on the main course.
Dealing with unforeseen situations is the other thing that tests the Fevicol ka mazboot jod that keeps the family together. Everything from a diaper that needs to be disposed, to that unwanted mirchi in the tadka, a pesky shoe bite to a missed period – there is an entire arc of events and emotions to be explored every single day of your precious trip.
If you are lucky, the vacation will end on a positive note – that is, no one would have filed for divorce, no son or daughter would have been replaced in the will, no siblings would have broken any bones.
It almost makes you long for the days when vacations meant overstuffed VIP suitcases and the watery tamatar soup on the Rajdhani. Yet, there is an upside to the whole grand affair. By the time you – the team leader, the captain, and the event manager – have bundled everyone back into the car or on the flight back home, you’ll have enough material for a new Netflix series.
Chandrima Pal is a journalist, columnist, career insomniac and caffeine snob. Loves food. Does travel. Author of A Song for I (Amaryllis) and At Home in Mumbai (Harper Collins).