India

Just got back from 2 weeks in India. Going back is always a bit of an adventure for me – even having grown up there, between trips I forget what things are like , and then what I do remember has changed completely within the span of a year or two. India is in the middle of a breakneck expansion like nothing I have ever seen. And going back with the two little tykes added a whole other element.

Luca was mostly excited about the concept of getting on a plane – a concept he has – to-date – only associated with Daddy being gone. So it was with a lot of excitement that we pulled into the airport and wound our way through check-in and security. The first sight of a plane on the tarmac, through the panes of the Air France lounge windows, was quite the event. Everybody in the  lounge was notified that there was – would you believe it – a “payne” out there … and another one .. and another one .. and they went “la haut” (up high).. and so on ad nauseam.  But then we walked through the walkway and on to the plane and the little guy didn’t understand where the plane went. “You’re on the plane” I tried to tell him. “No payne” he replied with conviction followed by “il est ou payne?” (“Where’s the plane). “Look”, I said, taking him to the exit row and pointing out the wing of the plane through the window. “You’re on the plane”. “No” he repeated. We repeated this ritual several times during the flight but with limited success. As far as he was concerned, he’d been ripped off. Then we landed in Delhi and, after being cooped up for 8 hours, Luca came off the plane like a bottle-rocket. It was almost comical watching the energy just pour out of him as he bounced off walls and windows and the airline staff had a good laugh. This continued on the looong walk back to the main terminal. At Immigration, I sat down to fill out the lengthy forms India demands while Sophie kept an eye on our hyper-active son.

Mia slept a ton the first few days. It was as if she knew her there was something wrong with her body clock and was determined to sleep her way through it. Or maybe India was tiring her out. We took both kids along everywhere the first few days – to Nizams in Connaught Place for Luca’s first ever kathi kababs, for a full day excursion to Hauz Khas fort roaming the fort and gardens I used to run around in growing up, and to the multiple malls that have cropped up in Vasant Kunj now.  Then we decided Mia was better off staying at home with grandma and cousin Samaira (older by 6 months) so Luca got some excursions with just Mommy & Daddy all to himself.

Kids take everything in stride. Not much really changed for either Mia or Luca – this was still all about exploring new places/spaces. Mia quickly crawled around all the apartment and quickly settled on her favorite corners – the little floor-level pedestal where my dad says his morning prayers, and the little corner in the kitchen with bowls and cups within reach to be dragged down to the floor. Luca’s big attraction was my brother’s motorcycle (a gorgeous, vintage-looking Enfield Bullet 500). Interestingly, in Paris, Luca keeps a safe distance from my motorcycle – happy to touch it and talk about it, but wanting nothing to do with it as soon as the motor starts up. With the Bullet revving, he was suddenly & surprisingly interested and so I got to take him for his first ever motorcycle ride – a little, low-speed tour around the block that he absolutely relished.

Malls in India have come up at a frightening pace. There are two within a 10-min drive of my parents place and inside either one, there is nothing of the India I grew up in. They are exact replicas of what you’d find in the US down to the Christmas mockups with reindeer and Santa and fake snow in the common areas. But the food court includes  a Haldiram’s and we got everyone together for a dinner of Indian junk food. Sophie was completely convinced that the chaotic, messy bazaars that she has associated with Delhi were soon going to be a thing of the past. So she spent an evening, video-camera in hand & recording for posterity, life & commerce in the little, bustling market of Masoodpur. Change on this scale, regardless of the homogenization it brings, has to be a good thing for country with nearly half its population below the poverty line. But a few days later, as we were negotiating our way around Lajpat Nagar market shopping for bulk fabrics, I still found myself reassured and appreciative of the same-ness of it all – dust in the air and on the road; honking two and four wheelers mixed in with 3-wheeled rickshaws, livestock and pedestrians, all sharing the same strip of asphalt; fruit-stalls and food-stalls sharing space with palm-readers, cobblers and watch-repair shops; kids playing crickets in makeshift fields in the midst of all this. The only concession to two decades of economic progress was a rope that had been optimistically stretched down the narrow main-street in the hope of separating the two lanes of traffic in opposite directions.

We taught Luca to say ‘namaste’ – with hands folded & head bowed and humility. Well, all except the last two maybe. India loves talking to kids and the reaction he would get to his Namaste would usually be so enthusiastic that it would then degenerate into a Namaste ‘face-off’ with both sides yelling “Namaste” at each other.  Don’t think he ever really got that it was supposed to be a substitute for bonjour. On a drive to Nehru Place to buy a laptop for my mom, I taught him to point out “rickshaws” on the road. So then it followed that we had to take him for a ride in one. So we did, one sunny morning, taking a rickshaw from our place to Vasant Vihar market. Lots of excitement until the 3-wheeler got going and Luca realized it can get quite cold and windy in the rear bench of a rickshaw – so he spent the ride huddled up in my arms and not saying a word. Our destination was a salon in Vasant Vihar to get him his first haircut from a professional (with all due respect to my wife and my mom-in-law) and the results were well worth the trouble.

Both kids fell sick almost exactly a week into the trip – by which point we were wondering why this hadn’t already happened and if we had dodged the bullet. Mia went down first and then Luca a day later and in quite impressive fashion – unable to keep anything down, running a fever and generally unable to do much more than just lie in bed. So there were a few days of doctors and medication and sorting out what we could feed Mia that she would deign to eat. Mia – still toothless at 11 mths – still turns her nose up at anything with chunks in it. On our first day Sophie tried a blended much of daal and rice, and the little lady flat refused to touch it. So then we mixed it up with her regular baby food that we’d brought from Paris – this was accepted but amidst loud complaints. She knew something was up. Following that, Sophie tried a bunch of different home-made purees, including stuff she normally eats. But veggies are never the same when you cross borders, and Mia had become much less trustful by this point – sweet was a no-go, anything even mildly spiced was a no-go, simple purees of peas/carrots was rejected, even the yogurt, with it’s slight sourness, would make her scrunch up her nose. But she loved the carbs – happily tearing into rotis and dosas and idlis with glee. So with all that behind us, when she fell sick, we went back to basics – heading to the expat supermarket in Vasant Vihar and purchasing – at an atrocious markup – baby foods she knew from Paris and that propped her up until she was back on her feet.

For Luca, if it was round it was a ‘pizza’ and all pizzas were to be loved & eaten. Rotis, Parathas, Stuffed Parathas, Dosas and even Kathi Kababs were all consumed with glee but categorized under pizzas in his food taxonomy. Hot spicy alu-bhujia and paneer tikkas would be wolfed down, but he’d complain that the alu-mutter or palak subzi was too spicy to eat. We took him with us to most places so he got to try a lot of stuff, Nizams, the Rajasthani stall at Dilli Haat, Haldirams, a long list of specialties that my mom cooked up. Ultimately what got him sick we decided – after much discussion of incubation times and other factors – was some pizza at the local Dominoes.

All in all, India was easier than I’d thought it would be with two small kids. Still safe to assume that they will fall sick at some point, but they bounce back so quickly. The real thrill was watching them run around the spaces I once knew as a child, and soaking up the new-ness of things.

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