The usually nondescript commercial complex in my neighbourhood in Mumbai is buzzing with activity this morning. As I get closer to the same, it appears as if yet another school has opened in that vicinity. Very young boys and girls with infectious enthusiasm are chattering away as if they are catching up after a long while as they are waiting there. It is 1st day of their coaching classes during the summer vacation. The schools had closed last week for summer vacation. And the “Classes” have begun.
Closer at home, the situation isn’t very different. The school got over for my daughter who is all of 6. When the school re-opens, she gets into Class 1 and that’s after couple of months from now. Its vacation time now which means well, time for few “Classes”. In this age of what I call as “Competitive parenting”, there is no dearth for options as far as “Classes” go. In addition to the usual Drawing class, Activity class, Music class, Dance class, Craft lessons,… you are now presented with some more choice. Maths Classes, Veda classes, Vedic Maths classes, Abacus classes, Phonics classes, Reading skill classes,…,… I’m yet to see the basic basic foundation course for IIT entrance for 6 year olds as yet. But ofcourse for most parents attending the orientation session for ‘Abacus’ class, I’m sure the visuals of IIT campuses keep appearing amidst those Abacus frames and beads! So as the vacation begins, my daughter is busier than ever not to mention of we parents doing the drop and pick up routine.
In our time, the drop and pick up routine of our dad was different. Almost every year during summer holidays which is a clean break of 2 months from school, our native place beckoned. In those days, Kerala was yet to become “God’s own country” and our town – Kottayam was known more for rubber. Today Kerala has become a global product and Kottayam as gateway to Kumarakom its main USP. “God of Small things” did its job I guess!!!
The countdown to the holidays begins with booking of the train tickets. In the pre-IRCTC days, thanks to the quota system every station had, it was easier booking the tickets if you plan. On the appointed day, the entire family boarded the Island Express from Trichy to Kottayam to spend another vacation. So dad’s job is to drop us there and get back to work and lead a bachelor life for 2 months. As the Island Express initially with coal engines and later with diesel engines kept chugging along, remembering and reeling off all the station names along the way was a favourite pastime. And indulging in some of the popular eateries of some of the stations was another. So “Idli/Dosa” at Olavakkode (now Palakkad) junction, “Ethakka Pazham Pori”(Fried Banana Bajji) at Ernakulam junction and “Paruppu Vada”( Dal Vada) at Piravam Road station were never missed. Though as South Indians we keep eating Idli/Dosa 400 days in a year at home, the excitement we showed in eating that stuff from the VLR (Vegetarian Light Refreshment) stall in the station didn’t amuse our mother at all. During the hour’s drive from Kottayam station to our place – Kidangoor, the excitement reaches a crescendo as we near the quaint bridge across river Meenachil, cross the Kidangoor Murugan temple and finally reach our house after a 17 hour journey!!
In the next few days, the cousins and aunts join while the uncles drop and leave. For 2 months here on in the lap of nature, we indulged ourselves. Taking bath in the river every day, those swimming lessons in vain, visit to the temple morning and evening and playing the whole day when not eating, NO TV, no mobile phones and no social media – meant Indulgence was bliss. Talking of eating – our stomachs must be cursing the holidays. Our vacation time is overtime for those poor organs! Jackfruit, Mangoes, Ethapazham (Banana), Aanikka Vala (sorry, unsure of the English name),… and their by-products all vanish before they are served. The vacation routine always included one trip to the fields by our Grandfather – where we were treated with Tender coconut water. But the ultimate delight was in eating the Tender insides of a tender coconut with Vellam (Gur). Remember in one of those field trips seeing with awe the making of fresh “Coconut oil” from dried coconut. One of my uncles cultivated sugar cane in his land and we were always eager to visit his field for fresh cane juice. There was one more guy who was extremely delighted to see us during hoildays. The paan shop wala right in front of our house whom we frequented very often. Even today I don’t think anything can beat his fresh “Goli Soda” lemon juice for its freshness.
With no TV and newspaper Ignorance was indeed bliss. Newspaper available was of Malayalam only which I couldn’t anyway comprehend. I must add here that unlike in other states where the local language newspapers lacked quality, in Kerala the Malayalam newspapers – Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi were of high news and literary quality. One of my elder mamas (uncle) made it a point to get ‘The Hindu’ English newspaper even if it was delivered with one day lag and we use to catch up with all the news whenever we go that uncle’s house at Puliyanoor my mom’s place few kilometres from Kidangoor. On one such catch-up came to know of India’s World cup win in June 1983 by the way!!!. It was difficult to say if we were indulged more at our Dad’s place or at Mom’s place.
In Kerala, time meanders normally, but as vacation comes to an end one always felt that time flew! As time to pack up comes closer, Dad appears to pick us up again. Grandfather gets busy to pack things up for each of the families. Individual cartons are filled with fresh homemade Banana Chips, Jack fruit chips, Chakka Varatti (Jack fruit jam), Mango pickles,… Any vacant spaces in those large cartons were finally filled with coconuts!!! Now you know why Dad has to come all the way to pick us up – with all those cartons and luggage pieces to lug, as many extra hands were welcome. Back to Island Express and back to Trichy – the vacation hangover goes on for a few days till the eateries get over.
I had almost the same vacation routine till my 10th std. when after that the tyranny of “Classes” began. The “Any professional course” obsession consumed my 11th std. vacation and in fact vacations after that. But still the vacation time is etched in my memory as some great time in the growing up years. A sense of guilt engulfs when you seem to deprive your kid of the same. Don’t know- may be if our daughter were to write a post on her vacations 30 years hence, you never know she may write nostalgically about the Class after Class she attended and enjoyed during her vacation time or so one hopes!!!