I joined the other white mother at the water's edge. Never mind the vigilant life guards, like me she had read of the drownings and the rip tides on this stretch of the Kerala coast. Our children cavorted in the breaking waves as we exchanged travel stories. Both of us had explored extensively in India as young adults and had brought our families here for the long summer holiday to share some of the places we'd been captivated by. Like my daughters, her son had initially struggled with the traffic, the press of the crowds, the inquisitive stares. Like me, Maggie had wondered if she'd been selfish in bringing him here and had only been deterred from catching an early flight home by the prohibitive cost of doing so.
Yet here the three were - half way into their trips - having the time of their lives, no longer professing hatred of the country.........they needed reminding that Kerala is also India.
Our trip had begun in Bangalore, entry into this pulsating city cushioned by an early morning arrival and a hotel in spacious grounds. The shock came once we ventured out, travelling in tuk tuks (autorickshaws), weaving in and out of heavy hooting traffic (when it wasn't all at standstill). Then trying to cross roads, locate a pavement.
The girls kept their wits about them. But once back in the safety of the hotel one twin cried herself to sleep. Her upset alternated with anger that we had brought her here when this was meant to be her holiday. My low point came the following day when the more adventurous of the two gave up the bravado she'd been maintaining for her sister and dissolved into tears on a station platform pleading to go home.
But away from the cities things quickly got better. We'd been careful to plan activities we knew they would enjoy and hoped they would always remember; a safari in Mudumulai National Park followed by a sleepover in a treehouse, the beach at Varkala. They spent hours in the trinket shops and roadside stalls in Ooty. We allowed plenty of screen time when they could zone out. And we put on hold some of the educative things we'd wanted to do, telling ourselves that the act of looking in itself in this country - even the act of looking away - was all the learning they needed to do.
Now we're nearing the end of our trip, our daughters no longer know the day of the week or how many more there are until they come home. They have successfully managed an overnight train journey and a visit to a Hindu temple - what they saw there bears little relation to what they have learned about Hinduism in their religious education lessons at school. They attended Independence Day celebrations. ("What do they want us here for, Mum?") We also spent a day courtesy of one NGO with the Irula tribe in the Nilgiri hills, where health workers are attempting to revive the use of their traditional plant medicines. An American-British couple introduced us to a project supporting the education of vulnerable women. Afterwards we ate popcorn and watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The girls didn't say much during these visits but it was clear they were listening from the questions they asked later - about the woman who lost her livelihood after her arm was mangled in the machinery in a tea factory, about the domestic and sexual abuse so many women face.
I won't be present to listen in on the conversations with school friends about what they did on their summer holidays. I expect there will be one or two salacious anecdotes - what Indians use their left hand for, their mother's reaction to a Mysore groper - and that will be it. They will gleefully remind us that they get to choose next year's holiday - a Greek island, says one, a Staycation with lots of camping, says the homebird. "You are never bringing me to India again," she said with feeling on day 3. True, I won't. But neither will I be surprised if she ends up bringing herself back here one day.
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