When I decided to take Deeya for an Indo-American sea-kayaking expedition along the west coast of Greenland, not everyone at home was thrilled. There was a debate in the family about whether a young child should be exposed to such an extreme expedition. Yes, I was also in two minds, but in the end I was confident that Deeya would not just survive, but thrive in those conditions — after all, she has inherited my crazy streak. The outdoors means a lot to me and I want to inculcate a love for nature in both my girls, Deeya, 14, and Meghna, who is 10.
Take the plunge: Being with nature together is a great way to connect with your child. Photograph: Arjeet Bajaj
Spending 18 days with my daughter in a kayak and a tent was amazing. Deeya was barely six when she tried her hand at cliff jumping in Rishikesh and has never looked back. She has done a course in trekking and mountaineering from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Delhi, is a good swimmer, keen at kayaking, and has been on white water rafting trips earlier. I knew my girl was gutsy and would enjoy this trip.
I wanted Deeya along because I believe that a first-hand experience provides a far better education than books. Deeya has been reading about global warming, climate change and its impact on the world, but in Greenland she saw for herself the kind of damage taking place, and how the glaciers are receding. She interacted with Inuits who told her that they no longer fish and hunt for seals in the winters because the sea does not freeze like it did earlier.
As father and daughter, Deeya and I had a chance to bond. In Delhi, school and work always take precedence. We are busy with our lives and there are so many distractions. Now she knows that no matter what, she can talk to me. We have shared something that is special to only the two of us. Deeya is a cool teenager to hang out with, committed to what she takes on and not a shirker. She was tested in extreme conditions and came out with flying colours. No matter how tired she was, not once did she say “Papa, I can’t help in pitching the tent, or I am too tired to paddle.” Twice during the expedition we faced tough weather — the winds were rough, the waves high and we were all fatigued — but Deeya kept going without asking for any concessions. Through the expedition, she was uncomplaining, responsible and efficient — a perfect team player.
How did this trip change Deeya? Well, for one, she has developed muscles, is a little more responsible about her things and has learnt to get along with people, especially those who are older than her.
All parents should take their kids outdoors. My father used to take me walking through the jungles of Kangra and those trips helped me become the person I am today. Being with nature is a great way to connect with your child. I am not necessarily advocating you take them on an extreme adventure trip; you could go camping with them or take them trekking. A movie, restaurant or a five-star vacation is fine but it is not the same. Get away from the normal hectic city environment, without TV and other amenities. It is the best way to break the ice with your child.
However, it can swing the other way too if you plan an ambitious trip for a child who is not ready to handle the outdoors. We had six-seven months of preparation time. In fact, I even took Deeya for a three-day kayaking trip down the Ganga with the Indian members of the team so that she could meet them beforehand.
Build it up gradually, prepare your child first, be sure of her abilities before you take her on a trip. Don’t push your child into something she is not ready to handle.
‘THE BEST PART WAS BEING WITH DAD’
I was scared but excited when dad asked me if I wanted to go for a sea-kayaking expedition. We kayaked in a flat boat shaped like a banana with its top
half cut off. The most exciting part of the trip was when we spotted a blue whale. I was quite surprised to know that mosquitoes or “bugs” abound in Greenland. We had to cover our faces with nets all the time. Also, I had thought that the Inuits live in igloos, but their houses are like ours and very colourful. We had packed lots of warm jackets but did not really need them because it was not so cold in July. I mostly wore half-sleeve tees. Inuits dress like we do in jeans and jackets too. I learned to fish and loved eating codfish. Unfortunately, I did not catch any codfish. The best part of the trip was being with dad who is really cool. I had been thinking I would get bored since I was going with adults and that I would miss my cellphone and computer, but I was too busy.
Deeya Suzannah Bajaj, 14, was the youngest member of a team of 12 which participated in an Indo-American kayaking expedition along the west coast of Greenland in July this year.
Ajeet Bajaj is the only Indian to have visited both the North and South Poles.
As told to Seema Chowdhry