I’ve just managed to come out of a fabulously amazing American long weekend. The recovery has been rather slow this time, since it was the first long weekend of the year. When you’ve lived in this country longer than the number of years you’ve owned that little black dress, you know that a long weekend is a big deal.
Even though a long weekend is just an additional day to your usual weekend, it demands months of planning. You just cannot afford to do the things you do on a usual weekend on this pious occasion. This means that you’ve got to go somewhere, meet someone, have a good time and most importantly flash it across Facebook. While this routine has sort of sunk in well now, my mind often wanders to memories of old Indian vacations taken with parents years ago.
There are absolutely no similarities between the two types of holidays: American and Indian. In fact nobody calls them holidays in India. It’s a vacation. It’s time you take off work to be with your family. Your family is almost always a part of your vacations. Except when you’re on your honeymoon, the only time people are willing to go on a vacation on their own.
Moving along, unlike American holidays, Indian vacations are most inconveniently placed in the calendar year. Almost as if somebody decided to scatter pigeon food all over the year. A holiday rarely comes along with a weekend. It’s almost always a Tuesday or a Thursday, with exceptions of Wednesday. They tell me nobody plans this on purpose, but I have my doubts.
And if this wasn’t messing with your vacation plans, organizations in India most definitely have holiday calendars of their own. In short, as a school going girl, if I had a whole week off for Diwali, my dad would most certainly have to work four days that week. Which would mean that we would have to apply for a four day leave, which would not be sanctioned till the day before we were set to leave. Honestly, this would only ensure that our trip was filled with uncertainty and mystery. What fun!! Not only did this teach me to keep my expectations under check, but it also helped me to appropriately deal with disappointments. Not bad for a seven year old.
And that was probably the only planning part, because this trip involved hardly any. With no maps, GPS systems, rental cars and online databases of hotels, we were pretty much on our own for most part of the trip.
If we were to rent a car and travel to the destination by road, we would most certainly have a driver with us. A concept unknown to most non-Indians, a driver is the owner of the vehicle who would drive you along the whole trip to places far and wide. Honestly, having been on innumerable such road trips as a child, my character sketch of a driver is quite muddy. He is a rather creepy looking big man, who only speak when spoken to. He slyly peaks at you through the rear-view mirror at regular intervals. Whatever your name, he calls you baby. His mere presence makes you uncomfortable. The stack of cassettes he has in his car drawer are not your type of music. But he insists on playing them. Loudly. To keep himself alert on the road. He drives rashly, takes steep turns, chuckles when you complain of your stomach churning and turns a deaf ear to your dad’s advise on slowing down the vehicle. But trust me, he’s not the worst part of the trip. The roads, the public bathrooms, the food, the sanitation and the mosquitoes are.
But, its still the best trip you’ll ever be part of, because you’re with your parents. Mom hands you a goody ever time you look at her with droopy tired eyes. Dad buys you a crate of Frooti and a few copies of Champak before you begin the trip. And every time you’re about to throw up, they give you the attention you’ll crave for when you grow up.
Then there are annoying cousins. But not all of them are bad. The little ones are a pleasure to travel with. They look at you with awe. They lean on your shoulders when they are sleepy. You can hold them tight when the car takes a sharp turn. They sleep like angels on your lap.
Now you’re sipping on your hot pack of Frooti. It’s sweeter than soda can ever be. Sometimes mom holds it for you. And then you can just roll down the window and look at the mango trees as you pass them by. Pure nostalgia.