The bags were packed. All the potted plants kept in a shady part of the kitchen where they were spared from the scorching sun for two days. Anika’s favourite, the Karela plant, had to be left outside – there was no other go as the vine had intertwined with the grill outside the window. Anika was back from school and was fed her lunch in a jiffy. Now it was time to have her anti-nausea medicine, just in case. She resisted and started building a big case against it and I decided to let it go. ‘’Please don’t forget to carry Neil ‘’ I shouted, more at myself than at the rest. My worst nightmare is that I will forget a sleeping child at home – like in the movie ‘Home Alone’. We were all set.
We were in the car finally and Anika was waving goodbye to the two ‘didis’. We were driving off to Alibagh, a small town around hundred kilometres south of Bombay, on the Konkan coast. Unlike our previous trips where I always found out in advance as much as I could about the destination, I had done very little researching about Alibagh.
Having two kids, I have realised is quite different from having just one kid. Especially when one kid (read Anika) needs as much attention as two kids would. V had quite wisely pointed out this one day –‘we are managing the equivalent of three children and that is why it is so hard’. I grasped finally what one of my old colleagues at Motorola was going through when he said on one especially hard day I reckon. ‘ If you have three kids – you are in quite a difficult situation’ he had muttered in his Berkshire accent, his face quite red as I remember it as we walked in together on a foggy winter’s day to the office from the parking lot. ‘No matter what you do, you only have one parent each to a child at any point and the third one which is left out is always complaining.’
Are we out of Mumbai yet? Anika was asking for the nth time. We are in New Bombay – Mummy replied from the front. V started answering the volley of questions that followed. Neil had dozed off in my arms after expressing general happiness about the traffic in Mumbai. The sun was shining from the rear window and two dark blinds were being shifted around to cover sleeping Neil and Anika who in general was her usual impatient self.
Gradually the traffic petered down. We entered the Konkan highway where we started feeling excited about the isolation. We were crossing a few mountains – Ghats as they are called in Maharashtra. I checked the map and thought we were in the vicinity of Karnala, a bird sanctuary. We stopped for a herd of goats to cross the road. It’s a pity that Anika is sleeping, V observed. The mountain air is so refreshing, Mummy pointed out. The humdrum of Bombay seemed so distant.
‘’I want to vomit’’, Anika exclaimed and straight away went into the process of vomitting. The car had just left a toll junction and it was impossible to stop immediately. There was a search for wipes which was unsuccessful, what with a sleeping baby in my hands. I went through the terrifying feeling of losing my dupatta, a towel and Neil’s hat in the melee. Finally after what seemed like eternity the car stopped. After the clean-up Anika got into again the car and then faced the music from her mother who flew off the handle. She had little to say regarding not taking the meditation and was told off properly. Finally Mummy intervened skilfully as always and diverted the attention of the girls in the back by pointing to a brick factory on the left. As luck would have it a decent restaurant popped up on the side and we stopped for a break. I had to walk into the restaurant with a short towel covering me instead of my regular dupatta and I affirmed to Anika again of the consequences if she refused to take anti-nausea medicine ever again in her life
The nerves were calmed after the meal. It is incredible how hunger and thirst can make potentially explosive situations. V says that his wife and two kids are quite difficult to handle when they are hungry. I have to admit that it is largely true though. I mean I sympathise with him
We resumed our drive watching the sun set over the mountains, beyond which we knew lay the sea. Are we there yet? Anika started again and the google map said we would reach the hotel in 15 minutes. We passed a sign which said ‘Synagogue of Bene Israelis’. There used to live in Alibagh round about the 17thcentury a man named Ali , who owned several orchards and land in the area. So they used to call them alichi bagh in Marathi which meant the Gardens of Ali – Alibagh. (The Bene Israelis were considered as the lost tribes of Israel who came to India through west Asia over the centuries. The Bene Israeli community played a role in Indian cinema in its nascent stage. Initially when women were not free to act in movies, the leading ladies used to be Bene Israelis or Anglo Indians. I found out that Nadira – of the mud mud ken nach from Raj Kapoor’s Sri 420 was a Jew. Her sharp Jewish features and her fearless attitude probable made her the first vamp in the history of Indian cinema).
Finally we were in the hotel and everyone freshened up. Niel was sleeping as if there was no change of location. We ordered some food which was so hot and spicy that there were tears in our eyes. But no one really minded that much. The stars appeared clearer and closer to us from the balcony and I thought we could even hear them talking to us if we stood there long enough. Perhaps that’s why we all slept like little Neil that night.
The next day was Saturday. After breakfast, V and Anika ventured out to explore the resort. Mummy and I decided to stay in with Neil and waved to Anika frolicking in the pool, which we could see from our room. After the pool, they went out to cycle. They came back sweaty and tired and V explained how Anika was cycling ‘’very well’’ while he made clear with his actions from behind her that this was not the case. Apparently he had to run two times around the resort holding on to a tiny cycle which Anika was on which was not quite easy on his back, since he had to bend. In any case Anika was beaming, quite excited with what she had ‘’achieved’’.
After lunch Mummy and I decided to walk around a bit. It was the beginning of March and was quite sunny, but the air was rather cool. We decided to settle under a comfortable sofa under a canopy. After a while we noticed that we could see our room. Looking closely we saw that V was walking from one end to the other of the room with Neil in his hands and Anika was walking along side. Something was not right and we headed back. Neil was crying. As soon as he settled down, Anika started her narration. ‘Daddy was not paying any attention to the baby,’ she started. ‘Daddy dozed off next to him and after a while the baby got bored. I told Daddy and he mumbled that the baby likes to play with me. Once he started crying, he woke up and instead of carrying the baby he went and opened all the bowls in the food tray. Then he took the baby out to the balcony. The baby was not wearing any shoes and it was so cold that he started crying louder. ‘’ It seems nothing had escaped her hawk eyes. It was so hilarious that we laughed and laughed and V said nothing to defend his famous babysitting skills. I asked him whether he could change Neil’s nappy later and he said ‘Only if you sit next to him’. And he has not regained his confidence even now;-)
In the evening we set of to explore Kihim beach a few miles away. What we saw around was a village. It was in some ways quite similar to Kerala. Hens clucking away in fields, small houses, bitter gourd and snake gourd vines in the fields, it was quite a contrast with the place we had left behind the other day. I guess the whole of the western coast of India has a lot of similarities. Anita Desai’s novel ‘’The village by the sea’’ was in fact set quite close to the area where we stayed – Uran.
Kihim beach had a lot of coconut trees. Mummy noticed that they had plenty of coconuts on them as well. The beach itself was not very exciting to be on. There were hardly any waves and it was quite rocky as well. On top of that Neil found the wind rather cold despite the hat, shoes, sweater etc. he wore. V had to carry Anika as she explained that she felt icky walking through the wet sand. However, Anika had good time with a pony ride and a ride on a horse carriage. It was rather unfair but we started comparing the beach with the rather wonderful beaches in Goa. And all of us agreed that we probably won’t be returning to Alibagh anytime soon.
We decided to start our return trip a little early and have lunch on the way. Anika without any fuss took the anti-nausea medicine and we were back home by four in the evening, quite refreshed after the visit to the village by the sea.
As I finish writing this account it is past midnight and I am left wondering why I wrote it down. I used to think that I write travelogues so that my parents can read them. But why would I want to write it when Mummy was with me and Daddy (who hides his face in a crowd of stars) knew what I was up to? I can’t find a compelling explanation though. Except that I the pilgrim soul find happiness this way.