Travelling In India With Children, Alone, Is Not For The Faint Hearted

India is not a place for the comfort and the safety of the elderly, infirm, differently-abled when it comes to travelling alone (though surely there are exceptions). So, when I whine about the issues faced by me as a father who wants to travel with my children – five years old twin daughters, I know that I come at the end of the priority order for the convenience expected.

Washroom

For the Girls: This is not about travelling per se. However, the fact is that travel cannot be done in isolation without an accessible and hygienic washroom. Finding a functional washroom is a task in itself. Even if I find one, I have realized that it is of no use for me. The girls are not at the age to use the washroom independently in a new place. Also, the washrooms are not designed to cater to the needs of girls going around with their father, alone.

For me: A man cannot travel alone in India with his young daughters and expect to use a washroom. The simple reason is that there is no place for his daughters’ safe-keeping whilst using the washroom.

Bus / Trains

The RTC buses in Hyderabad have back-door ear-marked for men and front-door for women. The seating is also demarcated – women in the front seats and men in the rear ones. With my two daughters, I fit nowhere. We did try to travel in non-peak hours in relatively empty buses. I realized that the steps are very high for the girls to manage by themselves. So getting in and out of the bus for us takes too much of time for the driver’s comfort and we just get honked out.

With people hanging out of the local trains, there is no way that we can even think of sneaking in.

Once I did successfully undertake a 3-hour journey in a train – general class 2S. Just that, I could not get in and get out of the train on my own. The trains arrive late and people rush in hoards to get in even before the passengers get down. Where is the place for a man with luggage and two kids in this mad rush? I have come to understand that unless travelling with a full-fledged family, Indian Railways do not welcome children.

Metro

Hyderabad Metro ferries 3 lac travellers per day in 800 trips in trains comprising 3 coaches. This gives an average of 125 people travelling in a single coach. So much for the profitability of Hyderabad Metro, not for a traveller other than an able-bodied adult.

 Auto

Due to the difficulties we face in travelling by buses and trains, autos are our go-to option. Hyderabad autos don’t work on the meter. When the auto drivers see a man with two young girls, they see a victim vulnerable, who can be taken for a ride – figuratively and literally, as they understand the option less situation that we are in.

Crossing the road

Hyderabad traffic police have declared Zebra as endangered species. Hence, for its protection, Zebra crossings have been removed at all traffic junctions.

I have my heart in my mouth whenever I have to cross the road with my children. Roads are too wide and the time allotted has gotten way less for crossing unless you are a 100 m sprinter, which we are not. And whilst we are racing across to cross and save our lives, there have hardly been occasions without a vehicle jumping the signal and coming straight for us.

Walking on the road

Whenever we are out, the girls prefer to hold my hand whilst walking which means that I have to keep them on my either side. This means that one of the girls is always on the side of the traffic and it is just so scary.

Arterial roads are not designed for even two people walking next to each other and here, we are three people walking. Even the main roads do not have the footpaths or wherever they are, it has been occupied by the hawkers. So, we are perpetually walking on the road trying to protect ourselves from the onslaught of vehicles.

Anyways, as mentioned in the beginning, we are the last priority and if our nation does manage to make what comprises travelling – washrooms, public transport services, roads, footpaths; truly accessible to the old and the differently-abled people, then we will surely suit ourselves in.

What is your opinion about travelling in India with children, ALONE?

PS: We have refused to buy a vehicle. Conscious of our carbon footprint and also not wanting to add to the traffic chaos, we have always been ardent believers of travelling by public transport. And now, I am just a father with twin daughters who finds it way too difficult to exercise our freedom of movement, safely and securely.

Every Walk With Children Is A Nature Walk

The most engaging activity with my twin daughters. The activity that never fails to amuse them. The activity that the girls are never tired of. Also, the activity that shows up my inadequacy as a parent. It is actually not an activity at all. It is just a walk. We start the walk outside the house and the activity begins – The Nature Walk.

Our five years old twin daughters do not go to any formal environment, not yet. We do not have a TV at home, either. So, what do we do? We just go outside the house and the girls keep themselves busy at least for an hour, if not more. We go out for running errands and we bring back much more than what we had gone to buy. Every time we step out, the girls make a new discovery or build further on their last. What is it? The Nature Walk.

To be honest, the girls do not even see this as an activity. They are not even conscious of it. They just do it. There is, after all, nothing better to do than this for them.

A Disclaimer: When I mention Nature Walk, Nature refers to any and everything that is not man-made. Nature does not mean that it exists in isolation, it is pure and pristine, it is difficult to reach. Rather, nature is any and everything around, that adults take for granted; at least I did earlier.

Clouds and Wind

Earlier, we stayed in an apartment on a busy main road. We used to go to the terrace and the girls had a great time looking at the clouds, their colour and shapes, their moving around and different hues of the sky.

The most under-rated aspect of nature – Wind fascinates the girls. How and why the wind blows? From where does the wind come? The wind also brings them their collection – leaves.

Trees and Plants, Any Vegetation

Large trees are few and far in between in big cities. Whatever and whenever we see, the girls keep asking questions about the trees and its eco-system: leaves, twigs, branches, buds, fruits, flowers, birds, insects etc. They collect whatever they find underneath the tree.

Not as much as trees, they have made great friends with plants around in our new neighbourhood. They find Beggars Tick in plenty and use their thumb to make it fly around. They love to swirl the Pinwheel flowers. Yellow Bells and Oleander flowers are a must to collect for them.

They love to eat Wild Sorrel. Also, to drink nectar from Ixora flowers. I was stunned the first time I saw them doing this. Later, I got to know that my wife, who runs an experiential travel firm – Dirty Feet, had taught them this.

 Animals and Insects

Again, like trees, animals in a metro city are hard to come by. However, moving around with my daughters, I have learnt that the fun and the size are unrelated. The smaller the animal/insect, the higher the interest levels of our daughters.

How long can one look at a millipede/centipede? The girls find them fascinating to keep a tab on them till they crawl out of sight. I never find a crawling creature on my own, but somehow the girls have a knack for finding them all around. Be it a snail, dung beetle, ants, spider, mantis, grasshopper, caterpillar and host of others whom I do not know to identify.

As soon as they see one, the girls take out their magnifying glasses to have a sneak peek into the lives of their discovery.

Birds and Butterflies

In our new neighbourhood, we do get to hear bird sounds once in a while. Though, sighting them is very difficult. Girls are learning to guess the bird from the sounds they make. Pigeons are the only birds they get to see in the city. No sparrows, no mynahs, no crows, no other birds; apart from their books.

The girls have a collection of peacock feathers. They are planning to make a dye out of blueberries and write with the feathers. Let us see how the plan unfolds.

The bumper prize – Sighting of the butterfly and running after the butterfly until it flies out of sight.

Stones and Pebbles

The girls have been collecting stones ever since they started taking their tiny steps outside the house. Whenever we go out, almost always, the girls come back home with a stone each in their hands, if not more.

The girls pick up stones from the footpath, from the road, from construction sites, from demolition sites, anywhere and everywhere. If we step out of the house twice in a day, then we have double the collection.

We have boxes and tubs filled with stones at our house. At times, I fear that municipal officers might levy penalties on us for our girls’ stone-lifting.

The Nature Walk

My wife and I believe that the nature walk keeps the child in our twin daughters alive.

I hope and pray that their fascination with nature continues. Fingers crossed.

Nature Appreciation: My Inadequacy As A Parent

A child asks interesting questions. Our twin daughters, B +ve and O +ve, are no different. They are inquisitive and curious to know about whatever they observe, feel, hear, smell and eat. This involves a lot of questions about nature.

Unlike a child, I, as an adult, take it for granted about the nature that surrounds me. However, for my children, everything is worth exploring, knowing and befriending.

I have to admit that I have no answers for their questions related to nature. I know zilch. My educational qualification says that I have completed 18 years of formal education. However, when it comes to identifying a tree, a flower, an insect, a stone, a leaf, a seed, whatever my daughters bring/show me – I am clueless to the core.

Leave aside appreciation of nature or knowing about it. I realize that I am unaware of the existence of nature herself.

The girls are just five years old. Their questions are no rocket science. They just want to know the basics of things around and I have no answers for them. I do take help of Google but the pace at which I am thrown the questions, I cannot match it. At times, I cannot even figure out how to phrase the question.

Come to think of it, unless for the questions of my children, I would not have even realized what I am missing out on and what I do not know. I see all these around me daily, I breathe around them, they breathe around me and I do not know anything about them.

I have realized that it is not just about answering the questions, my inadequacy goes even further. The girls collect a lot of stuff – fallen leaves and flowers, fallen buds and petals, feathers, stones, twigs, seedpods, dead insects; what all and whatnot, and I have no idea what to do with them. I know that each one of them can serve an educational purpose. Leave aside education; we can have lots of fun with them. I do not know that also.

I am trying to change and learn about my surroundings. However, I am not able to find any reference material. Whatever I find, limits itself to identification, that too is not at all user-friendly. Also, help for the identification of trees, insects, seeds and rudimentary details about them are very hard to come by.

I do not know how and why all the teaching material of children talks about maths, language and some weird thing called the environment. This environment has information on names of animals and birds, vegetables and fruits, vehicles and service providers. However, this environment is completely silent about what surrounds us – nature. There is no mention of what children encounter and experience around them for every second of their living.

I know where all the above is leading my children to. They are destined to become like their father – oblivious to their surroundings and ungrateful for the rewards of nature.

What would be your inputs on and about nature for my children and me?

5 Ideas To Get Kids To Take Medicine

Kids fall ill. When kids are sick, parents’ lives also turns upside down, if not already. In addition to the pain of seeing the child unwell, parents also have the onerous task of giving them their medicine. I had seen my wife struggling to give medicine to our twin daughters. When I became a stay-at-home father, I wondered what would be my fate to get kids to take medicine.

Surprise. Surprise. There was no struggle at all. The girls, both of them, readily took the medicine, whenever they were ill. This trend continues till date. Now, I am trying to decipher what went right for me and the twins to get them to take medicine.

 Explain and the child understands

First and foremost, what worked, I suppose was that the girls were two and a half-years-old when I had the task to get them to take medicine. They had started developing the understanding of whats, hows and whys of any and every task.

Even when they were not ill, I kept telling them about the importance of medicine, how we fall ill and taking medicine makes us healthy again. When they were sick, we went to the paediatrician and always had a discussion that the doctor shall check them, give medicine and it will make them strong, again. Provided, medicine is taken.

I have a strong belief in the child and his/her application when explained to them with logic. Either it was pure luck or whatever, but in this particular case of taking medicine, it clicked 100%.

I would strongly propose that even when a child is fine, s/he needs to be explained about taking medicine and not just when s/he is unhealthy. There is no point in explaining to even an adult when s/he is unwell and cranky, why expect the child to be sane when unwell. Rather, take advantage of the time when the child can grasp, absorb and follow.

Involve the child in adult taking their medicine

My wife has to take her thyroid tablet daily. The girls’ grandparents, both sides, have their daily medication routine. The girls’ have the task of giving medicine to in-house patients every day. If anyone of us has our share of cold/cough/fever, the girls very happily take up the additional responsibility of dispensing further medication.

I suppose, this also helps. It registers somewhere in their minds that adults also fall ill and when they do, they take medicine. And, that they do so without creating a ruckus.

A child will realize that s/he is not being singled out for the unfair treatment of medicine. Rather, when needed, everybody needs to have their fair share.

Let the child take medicine on his/her own

A child has to take a dosage from 1-2 ml to 6 ml. It has to be taken in a dosage cap. A child can very well hold the cap and drink the medicine independently. There is hardly any chance of spilling. And, even if it does spill, it does not matter.

What matters is that the child gets the feeling that s/he is being trusted to his/her own medicines. Once the parent tries to give the medication, it has the impact of something being forceful, something against the wishes, something that is not to be trusted. And, the endless tussle ensues.

Rather, make taking medicines a mundane task to be done at a given frequency. No brouhaha about it. Just pour the medicine, measure and hand over. Of course, a word of appreciation helps when the dosage is finished.

Do NOT add flavours, distract or hide

Both the girls have their fair share of illness. I have smelled and at times, tasted all their medication. Each and every medicine that they have taken, including the anti-biotics – the dreaded Amoxicillin, is all sugary and has varied flavours of their own. I feel that Crocin is the most sugary.

With so much of sugar and flavours, already there, I do not suppose there is any more scope for further sweetening. I am yet to come across a bitter medicine doled out to my daughters. Though, I am certain that they will show the same enthusiasm for that too.

I would not recommend distraction by screen time or hiding the medicine in juice/food to be given. Medicine is for real. Let us face it. And, let the child also face reality. What’s more – If the child feels that his/her juice/food tastes weird, s/he may stop taking that also.

The Cause and the Effect

I feel that the pain, if at all, is in giving the initial doses to the child. Once a child takes few doses, s/he is bound to feel better. And, once it happens, outline to the child that this is the result of his/her taking the medication.

It surely helps. The children understand much better than we credit them for. They might forget this learning in the next illness, but a couple of repetitions of this and the child will keep taking medicine for time to come, whenever needed.

Summing Up

As mentioned earlier, I am not sure what clicked for our daughters that they started taking their medication without breaking a sweat. Maybe all of the above, or some points or none of the above.

What are your experiences to get kids to take medicine?

Birthday Celebrations Without A Cake. Some Ideas.

I have written about birthday celebrations without a cake, some reasons. Consequently, I also need to come up with options to put into action what I am proposing. So, here go the alternatives to the dollops of refined flour, vegetable oil, sugar, chocolate and cream.

These alternatives are healthy, have a surprise element, lots of excitement can be built around them, and are varied. They are waiting to be explored and tried out. These options have all the capabilities of a blockbuster, build frenzy around them and make a loyal fan base.

Vegetables

On their own, vegetables lack the excitement and do not pack the punch to attract children towards them. The situation is further worsened when vegetables are also banished from the excitement of the birthday celebrations. Who would want to hang around with such a bunch of losers?

Now, let us turn the table. Welcome the fellow party-goers with a glass of juice, spinach/carrot/ beetroot. Even better, a veritable riot of colours and tastes – mix all vegetable juices. This can be followed by munching of raw vegetables. It is an absolute delight to munch – carrots, cucumber, beetroot, cabbage, radish, capsicum, green peas etc.

This is the first course served.

Fruits

We no longer have a cake. So, what do we cut for birthday celebrations? Fruits come up with a long list of options – watermelon, papaya, guava, custard apple or just an apple. There is also an option of jack fruit for more adventurous types or even a sugar cane (though, it is a grass, not a fruit).

There are no more pieces of cake – slices to be passed around. No worries. Watermelon slices can serve the purpose very well. If individual fruits are to be cut, coconut serves the bill. For every occasion, there is a fruit and its serving.

This is the main course served.

Local Savouries

We have no deep-fried potato chips to go along with the cake. They can be ably replaced by the local savouries. The children can easily warm up to the charms of chikkis, ragi mudde, til laddu, mamra laddu, puffed jowar and the long list, as per the region.

Yes, this part of the celebration will have some oil as a part of it. However, the main ingredient will continue to have all the characteristics mentioned above.

This is the accompaniments served.

Dry Fruits

On the face of it, this seems to be an expensive proposition. Dry Fruits? Well, we are put up against a formidable foe, right. Have you seen the cost of a cake? And how much of the slice each person end up getting? In comparison, dry fruits will turn out to be a value for money option.

With vegetables, fruits and local savouries; birthday celebration organiser might be told that s/he is trying to cut the expenses and not, necessarily, the cake. With the inclusion of dry fruits, this point will be taken care of and add a novelty factor to the proceedings.

This is the cake topping served.

An affair to remember

My wife and I have decided that we are going to celebrate the birthday of our twin daughters without a cake. The above is what I could come up with. Let us see, how things pan out. How the response of our daughters will be? What is the feedback from their invitees? Nonetheless, we will keep improvising and learn with each passing year.

What would be your suggestions to make birthday celebrations – an affair to remember, without a cake?

Birthday Celebrations Without A Cake. Some Reasons.

What is a birthday celebration without a cake? Can anyone actually celebrate a birthday without a cake? A cake has become so much synonymous with the birthday celebrations in India that it is impossible to think about the latter without the former.

Our twin daughters have been to a number of birthday celebrations in the neighbourhood. Without an exception, cakes have been a common element across all the celebrations.  I do not suppose, it would be any different for adults either. It is a universally accepted norm across sections in India.

In such a scenario, what is the need to re-invent the wheel? Why come up with a counter-narrative that birthday celebrations are better off without cakes?

Celebration with Healthy and Not Un-Healthy

I am in for celebrations of all kinds. Just a small niggle, though. Why should celebrations that too, of a birthday, entail un-healthy cakes? A birthday celebration is an occasion to cherish, an event to treasure and how do we celebrate it? We do so by consuming mounds of refined flour, sugar, chocolate, cream, vegetable oil – also popularly known as cake.

Somewhere, somehow, I feel, my daughters are making a connection in their formative minds that the celebrations mean to eat un-healthy stuff – cakes, deep-fried chips, canned juices etc. This is what they get to eat at all the birthday celebrations, anyways.

I find it difficult to believe that we, humans, actually celebrate by eating what is detrimental to our own health. If anyone believes that deep-fried chips, canned juices in general and cakes, in particular, are healthy, then it is a different case altogether.

A celebration is just a one-off instance to indulge

It can be said that a birthday comes once a year. So, if a person parties with a cake, what is the big deal? Can’t a person just enjoy even once a year? It surely does not make a big issue if a person wants to indulge once in a while.

I cannot comment about the adults, but I know a bit about the children around. How many times would they be consuming chocolates, canned juices and deep-fried chips in a week? Take a wild guess. If this the status of indulgence on a regular basis, why the case for an indulgence once in a while?

Similarly, what would be the frequency for a child to be consuming raw vegetables, fruits, sprouts etc. What would be the relative frequency of these eatables in comparison? What should actually register for a one-off chance to get included in a birthday celebration? You can take your pick.

Anti-cake is being a kill-joy

What has got a cake to do with a celebration? Is it the only way to enjoy and make an event worth-while? Come on, it is not the cake but the people who attend that counts. Everybody knows it. Yet, the cake is the first to make a reservation at the birthday party.

The size of the cake is not the measure of fun. One can argue that in that case, why have anything to eat? Well, that is not the point. We do require stuff to eat. Just that, this particular stuff can be healthy, as well.

I refuse to equate cake with having fun at the birthday celebration.

Cakes are monotonous, Yet

People get bored. People want change. It is difficult to tie down people with the same set of norms. We as human beings evolve and crave for change. Yet, in this particular instance, cakes have no challenger whatsoever.

I mean, how can anyone and everyone conjure up celebration in the same repetitive manner year after year? That too, when everyone around, also do their own celebrations in the same manner. We end up eating cakes all year round.

Yet, we do not find it boring. This is really fascinating. There is some lesson which I cannot decipher.

 My daughters will have cake, nonetheless

I know this. There is not much of a chance, no chance actually, against the all-round onslaught of consumerism. The cake is a manifestation of what we are told to do and we do so unflinchingly.

It is difficult to stand up against the might of chocolate and sugar. The popular culture worships them, and I know we are the devotees.

What would be your views on this subject?

I am trying to come up with some options to celebrate a birthday without a cake. Let us see, how it unfolds.

PS: The above is my personal opinion basis the dietary and nutritional issues I have with cake. It has got nothing to do with religion, culture and whatsoever else.

5 Lessons Kids Learn At Indian Wedding

Our five years old twin daughters, O +ve and B +ve, attended a wedding last month at Chennai. The kids were excited about the travel, meeting new people – fellow kids and relatives, attending the wedding, the ceremonies and what all and whatnot. We are not sure what excited them the most. Though, does it matter when it comes to Indian Wedding?

It was an experience for the girls – the wedding and the paraphernalia. I am sure they learnt a few lessons from their interactions and the happenings around them.

The Relatives

The kids learnt to nod to all the relatives who asked if the girls remembered them, when they met earlier, when they were in their nappies.

The kids learnt to get their cheeks, their head, their back patted from various directions by dotting relatives. At times, simultaneously.

The girls were bombarded with the same question – Which school do you go to, by all and sundry. The girls beamed and answered to all that they do not go to any because they are young children.

The Food

Getting hold of two chairs is a pain for us in any of the buffets we have gone till now. How does one expect to feed children standing all the time?

Here, it was a pleasant surprise. The breakfast and dinner were served on a banana leaf. Now, one cannot stand and hold a banana leaf with food inside. So, we had tables and chairs. The girls learnt to have their food in banana leaves.

Our children have a mix of Telugu and Gujarati food. In this wedding, the girls learnt to have loads of Tamil pickles, podi, curry and a different taste to rasam and sambhar.

More importantly, the girls fed themselves for all the meals, without a fuss. Not sure, what clicked. The banana leaves, the Tamil food, the people sitting around them; whatever.

The Dress

The girls learnt to put on 3 different dresses in a day, with all the paraphernalia for their ears, neck, hands, legs. Kudos to their mother for the patience she has in changing 6 pairs through the day.

The girls tried out various colour combinations and they went on and on. I felt blessed that I cannot identify any colours other than primary colours.

Trying to put clothes to the age-group of 3-6-year-olds, which they are not used to, is one crazy exercise. They drive us nuts with their antics and tantrums, and this was no different. They learnt to add new tricks to their armoury in this dressing up and dressing down episodes.

The Children

In the earlier marriages that we attended, we went around the food time and never noticed it. However, this time when we were present for two full days for all the ceremonies, it was starkly visible. With two hyperactive kids, we had to bear the maximum brunt of it.

Our daughters learnt and we also learnt that there are hardly any children around in Indian weddings. Gone long are the days when the kids would be running around in the wedding ceremonies and creating a ruckus. Few of them turned up during meal times, but that is it. Our daughters did not find any play-mates for them, that we promised before the travel.

Wonder where the children have gone to vanish from the scenes of the Indian wedding?

The Ceremony

We had told the girls that marriage is a ceremony. Now, the ever-inquisitive five years olds wanted to know – When/How/What is the ceremony? There are a few things that we learn only when we experience it first-hand. This was one of it.

We had no answers to satisfy the curiosity of young minds. They wanted to know what was happening and why it was happening. I realized that I was clueless about their queries. I also realized that there was no way in which I could answer their questions. Apart from the priest, who would have known what was going on, I do not think there was an informed soul around.

As the girls kept asking – Is the ceremony over during both the days, their initiation to dumbing down the curiosity about the religious ceremonies had started.

The parents’ perspective

Attending an Indian Wedding is an important part of the child’s learning and growing up process. They get used to the attack on the sensory organs – eyes (bright lighting), ears (deafening music), nose (strong perfumes), skin (pinch and pat) and get only chocolates for their taste buds.

The arrangement for Indian weddings hardly leaves any space, time and resources for children to do what they do – play or try and involve them in the proceedings.

Indian weddings ensure that the child’s journey to the impending adulthood gets initiated at the earliest.