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The Best Getaway Of Them All...

06/06/2016 8:40 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Multicultural people having a big picnic in the park

Every generation laments the present and glorifies the past. I am well aware of falling into that trap, and don't believe in subjecting my children to the things-used-to-be-better-in-my-time lecture. And yet, as the summer vacations began, I found myself thinking about the summers of my childhood, which could not have been more different than those of today.

Summer, for us, meant freedom and endless play -- not robotics, theatre and art classes. It was the most delightful time of the year, despite the oppressive heat. Somehow the stratospheric temperatures didn't seem as unbearable then as they do now. Vacations meant running barefoot in the afternoon heat; playing cricket in our driveway (or, in my case, waiting to be sent on the all-important errand of retrieving the ball from the neighbour's garden, a pre-ordained office of the last-born); drinking sugarcane juice; eating ripe, delectable mangoes, with the juice running down our elbows; journeys in our sturdy old Ambassador car (our father's pride and joy, but which had serious issues with its fan belt); abundant books; fighting over Archie comics and, needless to add, the much longed-for cousins' visits.

What I learned every night just by listening to [my grandfather] would stay with me and, often, guide me for the rest of my life.

But, more than any of the above, summers for me meant endless days at my grandfather's house, which was the enchanted land of do-what-you-want.

We would arrive at his gates the moment our vacations began and leave, kicking and screaming, when July sprung upon us, all-too-soon and without warning. Our mother, to our unimaginable delight, was not only barred entry, but was also made to renounce all parental control. Once she had dropped us off and we were safely out of her sight, the fun would begin. We would spend the long summer days playing catch-me-if-you-can games in the lawn, making garlands out of flowers, chasing parrots from the precious mango trees, making mud cakes, and inviting our grandfather to our make-believe world of tea parties, a world where the undercurrents that ran between the other occupants of the house never quite reached (childhood is about being blissfully unaware of all that happens around you). We would bathe, eat and sleep when we wished, often not in that order, and no one was perturbed by it. For those two months, we lived a Pippi Longstocking-esque life, where the absence of parental supervision started to feel normal.

We don't necessarily have more time, but when you have the resources, the problem of time can be largely addressed.

If our days were long and action-filled, our nights were equally wonderful, if peaceable. They were spent lying in the lawn gazing at the clear, starry skies, as we marvelled at the vastness of the universe. My grandfather would tell us vivid, magical stories -- of kings, goblins and faraway lands, of black holes and brilliant supernovae, of Shylock and Lord Byron, of the Gita and the Gospels, of his father and his childhood. We would listen without saying a word, except when he missed a part, because we had heard them a million times before. But that didn't take away from their appeal, we wanted to hear them over and over again. I would fall asleep to his silvery voice, which was complemented by the occasional croaking of his pet frog (yes, he had a pet frog that he named after a political figure to whom, he insisted, the amphibian bore a striking resemblance).

I didn't realize this then, but what I learned every night just by listening to him would stay with me and, often, guide me for the rest of my life.

That was what summers of my childhood were made of, ones that we seem to have lost somewhere along the way, but which, in my humble opinion, were the only way to spend a summer vacation -- at a grandparent's house.

As summer vacations descend upon us, I find myself being part of more WhatsApp groups than I have hours in the day.

Today, we are more involved in the lives of our children than our parents used to be in ours, and we are forever on a mission to make them smarter, more confident, more aware, more social -- better, basically, at everything than everyone else. We ferry them from class to class in the hope that they will grow up to be perfect, well-rounded all-rounders, who will play the piano, solve fractions, swim, debate, play tennis and write and speak with equal dexterity. We subject even two-year-old children to classes that claim to hone their every ability -- from perfecting their motor skills to honing their cognitive abilities. And we do this because we truly believe that this is best for our children.

The truth is that our lives, in many ways, are very different from that of our parents. Neither did any of these classes exist during our childhood, nor did our parents see the need (or frankly, have the time and resources) for putting us through them. So, there was no scramble to send children to the best camps, in the summer or otherwise. We all, more or less, did the same things -- we went to school in the mornings, and played in our colony parks in the evenings. In the vacations, we went to our grandparents' house. That pretty much summed up our lives (when I say we all, I mean we, of a certain segment, who are a small, fortunate percentage of the rest in this country).

In our desire to optimize every second of our child's free time, we've forgotten that summers are meant to be spent at a grandparent's house...

Now, however, the situation is dramatically different. We have a lot more resources than our parents did. We don't necessarily have more time, but when you have the resources, the problem of time can be largely addressed. So we spend those resources in giving, what we believe is the best to our children. And there's nothing wrong with that. I do believe that there are a lot more options open to children today and pursuing these is only natural. The problem, however, is that we've become too caught up in it and forgotten how important it is for our children to simply stare out of the window (ideally at their grandparents' home). We want our children to be gainfully occupied, all the time. By doing that we've ended up taking away the most precious part of their childhood -- free play.

As summer vacations descend upon us, I find myself being part of more WhatsApp groups than I have hours in the day. From science projects to theatre classes -- they seem to pop up on my phone from nowhere and everywhere. What follows is complete messaging mayhem, as mothers try and work out the logistics of car (and maid) pooling. I find it impossible to keep up with the deluge of messages. So I don't, and just lie low till the storm blows over. Like Shark Tank's Kevin O' Leary, all I want to say is "Stop this madness!"

In our desire to optimize every second of our child's free time, we've forgotten that summers are meant to be spent at a grandparent's house -- it's the only class the children need, and it comes at no cost.

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