I grew up all over India and despite those moves, there was one constant in our lives. Every summer, we had the exact same routine. Months before school closings, we would bring home our student “concession” forms, dad would book the discounted second class train tickets for my mom, brother and me and the three of us would embark on a day to two-day train journey to Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala where both sets of grandparents lived.
In the last decade or so, every travel magazine has featured Kerala as one of the most beautiful destinations on Planet Earth and the state slogan for tourism is “God’s Own Country”.
Well, to put it bluntly, I did not appreciate our vacations and in fact resented them. All my rich school friends were off to exotic locales like London, Singapore and the US, and when I was asked about my plans for the summer, the answer did not budge. Yes, I was off to spend two months with my grandparents, there was no TV, we ate our meals with groups of 50 people, went to the temple every day and everyone was in bed by 10 at night. So much for idyllic childhood summers.
As clichéd as it might sound, I credit so much of my gratitude and strong sense of family to what I learned through those summers.
– Our train journeys took us through some incredibly arid areas and when the train crossed the border into Kerala, the palm tree fringed waterways, the small boats, the traditional homes, the women with their waist length hair, the smell of the moist air all shocked your system’s appreciative senses into full gear. And to this day, the simple things continue to take my breath away.
– My grandparents had coconut groves, banana trees and cows at home. Before the concept of reusability and environmental consciousness were buzz words, every thing was used and re-used to its full potential.
– My grandparents were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination and yet, every member of the immediate and extended family along with anyone they knew was always welcome to partake in a meal
– Since all the cousins had summer break overlaps, the house was always filled with food….entire branches of bananas and jackfruit, freshly roasted cashews, sweet and savory foods of every kind in abundance and non-stop eating became our only pseudo occupation over the summer.
– Our cousins, who we spent each of these summers with now live in different cities, but our closeness continues over Skype, Facebook and face to face meetings, a legacy to the strong sense of family left behind by our ancestors.
– At the end of every summer, the entire household would be in a state of frenzy packing a plethora of much beloved food items for each family to take back to Mumbai or Delhi.
Today, I have traveled to places that I never thought possible. And despite the proliferation of ready-made foods, to me there is nothing more valuable than a family gathering over a home cooked meal. And of all the gifts I have in life, it is the gift of my family and the love of those still around me that I cherish the most.