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Sunday, September 14, 2008

The trouble with children

They don’t call them ‘kids’ for nothing. A kid is the young one of a goat. I like the four-legged kids - they are cute, funny and delightful. The two-legged species are (and I speak from bitter experience) generally spoilt, cranky, messy and demand to be carried.

One of the great fall-outs of the joint family of great-grandparents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters, giving way to the nuclear family of young father, mother and squalling toddler, is that tourist spots are over-run with young couples who let their kids do pretty much what they please. In the past couples who wanted to ‘travel’ would leave their kids at home with the rest of the joint family and take off for a holiday without a care in the world, except maybe a long list of gifts to be brought back. Today that is not the case. If you want to travel you pack the toddlers along with the toothbrush.

I often wonder whether young families really enjoy their holiday. The other day while visiting the Chapora Fort I learned a few things: that Sandak sandals are the perfect footwear for walking up a steep slope made up of rock and small loose round pebbles; that carrying a baby to experience the heart-stoppingly beautiful view from the fort is a harrowing experience, but carrying that baby down the slope is torture of a special kind; that the fathers are usually deputed to carry the generally overweight child, while the mothers gasp for rest-stops every three feet; that there is a man selling cold drinks at the fort, but there are no toilet facilities.

I looked at the fat child in the arms of a pale and perspiring father and told him to take a picture so that he could later tell his son of one of the sacrifices he made for the brat. The man smiled through his wheezing, but the child looked superciliously at me and flung his tetrapack apple juice on ground. “Nahin Raja” crooned the mother, but she let it lie there and they walked around to photograph the view and themselves.

More and more players in the hospitality business are putting up one more sign in their establishments: Children Not Allowed. Some restaurants, multiplexes and aircraft have banned children below the age of three. While there are many who disapprove, there are many who hail the idea as a good one and want adults-only eateries and movies.

I remember accompanying a woman and her 18-month old daughter to a very large, very quiet department store somewhere in England The child was born to the parents after 18 years of marriage and was spoiled sick. She was a screamer and her scream would put a train engine’s whistle to shame. When she screamed in that department store her scream went into one’s brain and spiraled around in it. A young guy was carrying her while her mother shopped madly. The child wanted her mother to carry her, so she screamed. Right in her carrier’s ear. He turned pale. She screamed again, louder and longer and other shoppers looked distressed. Her mother merely caroled, “Wait beta.”
Beta drew in her breath to let loose another scream when I reached forward and gave her a sharp pinch on the bottom. She was so taken aback; she glared at me and opened her mouth. I bared my teeth and made a pinching gesture again and she was quiet for the rest of the morning.

More annoying than that however was another toddler who had come to a restaurant near the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. He was accompanied by his entire joint family of loud happy Gujaratis. There must have been a dozen of them of all ages and sizes and had eaten well, with lots of pure veg thalis all over the long table. The toddler climbed on to the table and walked in and out of the thalis with the remnants of the rice and dal. He smashed his way through papads and tipped over two glasses of soft drinks on the white table cloth while his adoring family laughed and told him to be careful not to fall. The waiters looked on grimly. Now I for one would not be surprised if that restaurant carries a board which says: “Children Under Age 3 Not Allowed”.

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