Old habits die hard especially traits that are hammered into our kiddy frames by our persistent parents. Even after we are done with growing up, working our arse off, paying instalments for home loans, changing diapers of our wailing progeny - we can never say NO to them. We are hardwired to obey our parents. So one fine evening, when you are flopped on the bed after a hard day’s work, your Mom calls you only to announce that we are all going to Jim Corbett next weekend, you instinctively say YES to her. Of course you have the rest of the week to repent, worry about unfinished chores, incomplete reports. Ahh...I’ll manage, somehow!
My Mom has a special fascination for animals, the wilder the better. In fact just a few months back, she and Baba went all the way to Kenya to see lions, zebras, hippos and their sundry cousins frolic in the Masai Mara forest reserves. In the 90’s she had yet to acquire an international taste and was content with desi forest reserves, especially Jim Corbett. So every time she was feeling low, high, bored, restless we would all rush off en masse to the resorts in the vicinity of the wildlife reserve.
When my parents say they are taking a break, they do exactly the opposite. As kids whenever we took a vacation, we would see them mutate into hyperactive kids ready to scale any peak or crawl under cobweb infested caves all in the name of sightseeing. Since we had no choice but tag along with them, we (me and my brother) would feel like hapless prey caught in a Venus Flytrap. Once when I refused to accompany them on a trip to Kolkata, my brother came back with a look of betrayal in his eyes. Listening to his endless stories of torture – of being dragged around in hot and humid Calcutta (as it was then), forced to gorge on the much hated maachh and mishtee – I giggled in relief.
Even after I had been married, the memories were still fresh in my mind; so I had enough history to support my unusually low enthusiasm about the much abused word break!
Clark Kent needed a phone booth to transform into Superman and all my Mom had to do was sit in a car packed with suitcases and voila she would be ready to fly with her brood in tow. Since she has always a great believer of conservation, five of us (my daughter was still a thought) would stuff ourselves in one car. And just as we were getting in the mood to snooze, our limbs resting not so gently on each other, she would take out a thermos full of coffee like a rabbit from the magician’s hat. Puhleez Maa not now! But does she give up? Nah. So whenever we stopped for a loo break – I am so hungry break – Wait, aren’t those guavas, they look so fresh break – Maa would triumphantly take out the thermos and threaten to pour out coffee for us.
The first time we went to Corbett, we agreed to pick up a gentleman from Ramnagar, the town nearest to the forest reserve. Imagine five of us already squeezed in an Esteem and an adult man is graciously asked to join us on the front seat. With my brother propped on the gentleman’s lap, his gangly legs on the dashboard resting next to the steering wheel, the husband gingerly changing gears lest it slam into one of the protruding bums – I am surprised people didn’t stop our car and click pictures. But this was a pre mobile phone camera, pre Facebook era where memories were not meant to be uploaded and shared with 355 online friends.
The resort was a stunning piece of property – River Kosi a stone’s throw away, well tended greens, each cottage built around a mango tree. Since it was winters, it was decided our next visit will be during the mango season. But what excited us the most were the hammocks and the friendly German Shepherds. Good, we have plenty to keep us occupied and won’t have to venture in the wilds. Famous last thoughts!
The caretaker was suggesting that we take an early morning safari on an elephant’s back. At the crack of dawn, there she was gently encouraging us to haul ourselves atop a pachyderm and look for cheetahs and tigers. Of course not, I said. Not in this lifetime, said my brother. I looked sweetly at my still-trying -to-impress husband to accompany his doting in-laws. He actually looked mildly excited and bounded off. And came back with the all too familiar look of betrayal in his eyes. Farty elephant...bumpy ride...all they spotted were tree tops. Don’t worry, tomorrow we will take the camel ride, cooed Ma in her best conciliatory tone.
On our next trip, it was decided we’ll take an open jeep ride in the forest reserve. You went all the way to Corbett and all you saw was stray cows and manic truck drivers – Shame on you! Obviously we had to spot at least a tiger or two for the sake of our neighbours. And we did – stared intently at tiger paw marks, oohed and ahhed at tiger poop (yeh dekhiye, bilkul fresh), jumped in excitement when we heard rustling behind the tall grass, swooned in ecstasy when we spotted elephants. The highlight of the safari was our jeep coming to a screeching halt at the sight of a white owl and Baba exclaiming beeyoootiful. The owl looked too stunned to react.
When we finally got back from mission-jungle-exploration looking like rag dolls, we realized that Baba had left the car keys in an impossibly secure place – inside his locked car. With Maa giving a stern lecture to her sheepish looking husband, me staring at dismay at my white jeans gone a dusty gray, the husband and bro desperately trying to open the lock with a plastic ruler – we made quite a fetching sight.
It’s been over a decade since our last visit. I have finally mastered the art of saying no and my parents prefer unwinding in their cottage in Ramgarh in Nainital. Last year when we decided to join them for a couple of days, Ma insisted on feeding us two crates of eggs (yes, all 60 of them) she had bought especially for us. Later she took out half a dozen ready-to-heat packets of Aloo-mattar and gave us a hurt look. See, what a waste! And suddenly all those Corbett memories came rushing back. It made me wonder whether I actually missed those days – the craziness, the endless arguments, the exasperated sighs...
The more things change, the more they remain the same – Thank God for that.
Mwaah to Zephyr for reviving those memories.....