The Holidays

 A family holiday gathering is quite like a summit of the heads of state. Everyone is a Chief Executive with his or her own domain and everyone has critical goals and an independent agenda. Everyone is on a well-earned junket and everyone will be in the picture of the year that will be AirDropped with a well-worded statement during, or at the end of the meet.

 The holiday travel planning starts before the summer solstice. One half of the family prefers three stop-overs on each side of the Atlantic and the other needs to ensure that a shower is possible every time the nose wheel touches the ground.  Later, for those on the ground there will be the updates: “Showered and ready to board for Rome,” or “Children have been amazingly well-behaved.”

 Day One of the holidays is dedicated to setting up connectivity, establishing territory and general orientation. That’s when the family has to accept  a few of the ground realities  –  the Wi-Fi signals  are bleak, the stray dogs bark at night, the hot water  stops every three minutes and the wardrobe  could do with more hangers and less of moth balls.  Everyone is looking for a grasshopper-free vacation in our wooded precincts.  The fussy go around the house swatting flies, looking for vector-borne microbes and generally sanitising the premises like nurses in the intensive care unit.  The house suddenly begins to smell of a synthetic essence of lime when all year round it just smells of frangipani and lemon grass from the garden. The house also begins to look like a newly commissioned multi-national study station for senior executives working from home.

 There are solicitous enquiries about the food – are you making biryani[i] ? Is another batch of marzipan going to be done? Can we have some fried prawns? Two days into the gathering, there are signs of a near rebellion among the under tens’. “We don’t like boiled eggs, we want an egg sandwich and we have oatmeal, not porridge,” announces the youngest. To stem the uprising, menus are quickly re-engineered, dishes are re-plated and nearly everything except the ketchup is re-christened.  Italian salami is smuggled into the Shepherd’s Pie during cooking and the lentils sport different colours every day. The plan seems to work: “I really like the brown one,” says the six-year old.

 The fundamentals remain the same: One loves fish, another prefers not to see it on the table, two others prefer salt-free and fat-free food and yet another will eat anything so long as he does not have to wash-up. There is one more element – a very welcome guest who as she says is ‘low maintenance’ but needs vegetarian food. The only thing the family agrees on is the beer or wine before lunch and a nap after. When all the preferences have been carefully factored into the day’s menu and it’s time for lunch, there’s the smart one in the family who has a profound idea: “Do you mind if we order in? Chinese?”

 All through the holiday, the kitchen and the washing machine work around the clock. Breakfasts merge into a lunch that lasts till sunset and dinner never ends. “Please don’t take my plate away – am not done – am just checking my office mail.”

 The youngsters take to cricket on the verandah and the parents, aunts and uncles discuss inflation after shopping. At the end of the week, the children are restive and it’s time to take help from Dora and Diego on the cartoon channel.  By then one half of the Made-in-China toys that the children got under the tree have broken and the other half (they have been told) has to be left behind because of baggage constraints.

 A few days more and it’s time to think of work and school and time to face the storms on the East Coast. Back from the airport the house feels empty. You know the holidays have come to an end when the sofa is free of the iPad Mini and you no longer have to pick up bands from the rainbow loom as you walk through the house. You also know the holidays are over when there are just two settings at the table and no one peeps in to ask: “Is breakfast ready?”

 The rooms are bare but parts of the holiday are all over the place – a few lime-scented disinfectant wipes, half-used jars of age-defying washes, cleansing soufflés, volumising shampoos, nearly-new flip-flops and bits and pieces of broken gizmos left all over the house.  Everyone has taken their own set of possessions and maybe a few memories. Everyone has also left behind stuff you really don’t want to clear – at least not yet.







[i] A dish of spiced meat and rice