I was given the look when I mentioned to people last year that I was going on a two-week vacation with my toddler. To Bangkok.“What’s the point of going to Bangkok with a baby?”
I know what they were thinking. No sex shows, no strip clubs, no night life, no massage parlours, no scoring (thanks to permanent arm candy), no sex toy shopping or any other shopping, and generally none of the debauchery that is associated with Bangkok.
I must confess that I never factored in any of the aforementioned when planning my holiday. All that mattered was that it was just a four-and-a half-hour flight, and that Re would sleep through it, since it left at midnight. And that there would be a table laden with food waiting for us at the end of it. The revelation that the friend I was staying with was a gourmet cook was an added bonus. As for Bangkok and what to do with it, I would think about it later, I figured.
The very next day, Re and I set out to find our Bangkok, armed with a few words supplied by my friend and host, Shilpa. So kob khun ka (thank you), nam (water), hong nam (bathroom), nit noi (a little bit), ko tot (sorry) and nee tao rai (how much?) would be our friends for the next two weeks.
I have always believed that you can never really visit a place. You have to allow the place, with all its texture, contours and nuances, to visit you. Travelling with my child somehow reinforced that belief.
We did skytrains and tuk tuks, Thursday markets and fruit-platters (with a dash of salt, sugar and chilli powder), giant coconuts and blue mangoes, candy-pink taxis and purple milkshakes, parks and safaris (although Re didn’t care as much about the “cocodiling” and the “hippopotis” as he does now). And we had a blast. By day three, I had forgotten that Bangkok had a huge sleaze quotient. In fact, my most lingering memory of the place is a visit to the local Erawan temple, where Re joined his hands in auto-reverence, oblivious to the song and dance around him.
The other parental unit is more manicured in his travel habits and is seldom willing to think out of the suitcase. A stray episode of our luggage getting exchanged with that of a honeymooning couple in Goa the first time we travelled with baby was enough to break him into hives. “Oh God, our holiday is ruined!”
“For a few diapers and underwear? No way,” I said.
I come from a gene pool where we often got separated as a family on the train in classic Manmohan Desai fashion, thanks to my father’s wanderlust-fuelled need to explore every station, dragging the more adventurous child among the three of us (it differed with the bait offered) with him. So losing a piece of luggage was hardly of much concern. Losing a ticket caused a mere tremor. Losing your way was a means to find a hidden place.
For many parents today, the quest for baby-proof destinations has taken the fun out of travel. If they lacked spontaneity earlier, they have become vacation robots now, armed with checklists and in-case-of-emergency items which often amount to more than their luggage. They either go to brochuresque, Disney-type baby-destinations, or not go at all. The thing that scares me the most about “baby-friendly holidays” is the thought that I am blending into the monochromatic pool of parents who I might meet at such holidays. I am not suggesting a trek to the Annapurna at six months, although it’s perhaps the best time to do it and also the time when you still haven’t started cribbing about how much the child weighs.
I know someone who lives abroad and whose daughter’s “local” travel cot reaches her port of landing in India before she does (with the help of an obliging family) on her annual holiday. She believes that her child won’t sleep anywhere else but in her cot. Poor child. All opportunity for newness and adventure robbed because her mother thinks she is not ready. She also carries milk, pasta and sauces, jams, biscuits, spreads and crates full of toys from back home to wherever she travels. The child, of course, never looks up from her iPad, makes any new friends or ever eats anything new. I never understood the mother’s need to simulate her home in her holiday. It felt like she was moving from one bubble to another while ticking off yet another manicured resort on her checklist.
The thing is, travel sets you free. Travel allows you to become the person you could be. Travel makes you find the parts of you that you haven’t met in a while. Travel is your only chance to Botox your mind, considering the lives we live. Travel with a child does all of the above. What better way to see the world?
This post originally appeared as my column in the Indian Express EYE on 20th May, 2012