It's that time of the year again.
The school is finally over and we are all preparing for our annual break. Looking at the all the travel preparation, I can't help thinking about my own childhood. Summer holidays those days did not mean seeing a strange place. It meant going to Calcutta, to be with my extended family.It meant lazy idyllic days bonding with cousins, watching movies and playing football on the terrace of our ancestral home.
The journey to Calcutta itself was a big adventure. We would reach the station and the fun would start from there. After much haggling we would appoint a coolie to carry all our luggage to our compartment. The coupe would be our home for the next 24 hours. My brother and I would pretend to climb mountains. The top most berth would be our summit. We would camp there and eat roasted peanuts, puree-sabzi, potato cutlets and everything else the vendors sold. The snacks would be washed down with lukewarm Campa-Cola.
The next 24 hours would be spent chatting with our fellow travellers. We would exchange life stories and food. Play cards and antakshari. Tell jokes and discuss the latest Bengali flicks running in theaters.
My mother never thought any stranger would molest her girl in the train washroom. She never thought her son could get into the company of ruffians . She never hesitated to accept food from our fellow passengers. Never saw the danger of food poisoning or any other illness.
My brother would get off at every station to fill up ours and every body else's water bottles.Standing in a queue to fill up the bottles from a tap and then running back to get into the train itself was a huge adventure. I would anxiously wait for him and he would laugh at my silliness.
The temperature would soar beyond 40 degrees C. Hot dry wind would dry up our lips but two of us would still sit next to the windows almost devouring the passing scene. My mother would hang two big wet towels over the window grill and we would get some respite from that heat.
As Calcutta approached, the train would invariably stop between Liluah and Howrah junction.My father jokingly referred to it as Halwa. After an unbearable -so -near -yet- so -far wait, which could mean anything between five minutes to five hours, we would stare awestruck at the majestic Howrah bridge dwarfing the Calcutta skyline. The excitement then would change to anticipation. Who would be coming to receive us at the station? The joy of spotting a familiar face at the platform was so huge.
This summer, we are taking our children to Italy. We will reach the air conditioned comfort of the airport. We will wordlessly load our baggage to the trolleys and check in. My children will spend the next nine hours strapped in their cramped seats. They will eat the cardboard like airline food and try to keep quiet so the other passengers do no get disturbed. Like a paranoid mom, I will accompany them to washrooms. They will not be allowed to talk to any strangers and exchange life stories. There will not be any fight for the window seat as the view outside would hardly be enchanting. There certainly will not be any familiar faces to receive them at their destination.
They will see the famous ruins of a civilisation that shaped the world but there definitely will not be any football matches played on a terrace.
Do you think they will enjoy their summer break?