This September I was informed that I would be making my annual trip to Cannes via London. To meet the higher echelons in the head office. Seizing this opportunity I asked my parents if they would like to join me in London. My parents, and father in particular, has always had a deep-seated desire to visit London. The history and the availability of curry being the top two reasons. Vegetarians are very pragmatic about their holiday destinations.
I warned them about the infamous English weather. But that was insignificant, as long as I was going to be in London it would be the best time to visit. Although I’ve visited London quite a few times, I’m by no means a local. But at 70 it’s more of an emotional support they seek rather than a physical or financial one. Sorry MasterCard.
Weather warnings forgotten, plans were made rapidly.
I trawled through my cupboards for winter wear for my mother. I bought age-appropriate sweaters and T-shirts for my father. After his retirement, his wardrobe is restricted to exercise clothes, traditional kurtas and a few (but not forgotten) safari suits. Adding to this neatly pressed, starched, and crisp pile of clothes were the T-shirts I’ve passed on to him. Gifts from business partners. So, he naively adversities Comedy Central or Radio One with clever by-lines and zany collegiate appeal!
We had swung into action. Shopping-check. Tickets-check. Hotel booking check. Visas-check. Forex- check. My family undeterred even as the rupee plummeted 1 GBP= 100 INR.
Packing-There were various facets to this packing, starting with food packing. Vegetarians are also a tad paranoid.
Surprisingly, they also packed tea bags! I pointed to them that we’re going to the land of tea lovers but they weren’t going to settle for Bergamot Earl Grey or a mild English Breakfast. They need a stronger brew, a proper builders tea.
Being a seasoned traveller, I shared my tips and checklist before they boarded their flight. Cross-body handbags, adapters, international roaming on their phones, to tag their luggage for easy identification etc. The trip hadn’t even started but I could feel the beginnings of anxiety.
So here we were, smiling and hugging at London Heathrow. We made our way to the waiting car as they relaxed and silently approved the perks of my business travel. The hotel apartment had proficiently kept a welcome message addressed to my father and he took out his little Nokia phone to capture the screen. He’s not on any social media so clearly this was for his own private memory.
After a power nap we made our way to Liberty and thus began a holiday full of discoveries. I saw a side to my father I didn’t know existed. After shopping we had almost joined the throngs of people on Oxford street but he wanted to retrace his steps so we could get a picture outside Liberty. I now know who to thank for my limitless capacity to pose for pictures.
Over dinner, I realized that my mostly teetotaller father quite enjoys a glass of wine (or three). I was thrilled. I was having a larky dinner with my parents. I could show them new things whilst they happily embraced each experience. I felt a new emotion, a sense of wonder. You can spend your life with people, with the tinnitus of familiarity and then one day in a strange land, you see them in a new light.
As I gathered our coats and searched for our keys, I overheard my father tell my mom that they should go to a traditional British pub next door. Wow, will wonders ever cease?
The rest of the trip saw us trundling together. I was their map and their go-to App. All pre-holiday worries gone as they expertly hopped off and hopped on.
One night, I had a severe stomach ache and had to wake my parents because I had stupidly forgotten my medicines.Except that incident the trip was a roaring success. Right through the seven days I had three overriding thoughts:
1) When your family is with you in a foreign land, it ceases to be one.
2) Your parents are perhaps cooler than you think or imagine.
3) The roles were reversed. When I visit them in India, I automatically lapse into the I’m-your-daughter-and-therefore-in-your-care mode.
Now, I was the parent. The one in control. The one in charge. Protecting them in the tube stations and from the marching pedestrians. Guarding them against pickpockets and the world at large.
The end of the holiday arrived all too quickly. I put them in a cab and off they went to Paris. Even though I’m not a mother, I felt a longing. As if I was seeing them off for a summer camp. Pushing these thoughts aside, I got into back- to- business avatar and returned to the apartment to finish my packing for Cannes.
There it lay , innocently, a small bag in my suitcase with some medicines and a handwritten note from my father describing the different uses and doses.
With tears stinging my eyes I realised, I was wrong. They’d been parents all along.