The perfect holiday is a five-letter word
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The perfect holiday is jumping waves, reclining 6 inches above the ground with your toes curled snugly in the sand, letting go one salty breath at a time.
It’s walking dreamily along the shore as your child cartwheels ahead of you and your husband happily slow-roasts in the heat. It’s watching the two of them swim into the sea, further than you would ever venture, and then going back to writing this column.
The perfect holiday is summer, on the beach. It’s great for parenting, body confidence and your battered sense of adventure. If you’re single, waves provide the best background score to ruminate on the joys of solitude.
Going to the beach is every parent’s idea of an easy holiday. That is unless they have the equally brilliant option of letting their children run amok in a sprawling family house nestling in a village or a hill station with lots of cousins and a retinue of support staff. I spent many summers in a British-era family bungalow with monkey tops, verandas and a red roof straight out of a fairy tale.
For most parents, the beach fills the gap of an ancestral property quite adequately. It’s the best age-no-bar water park anyone could ever conjure up, with no plastic, no sharp edges and nothing breakable. It’s that rare place you can yell go, go, go! instead of the usual Watch out! Be careful.
It’s a gender-neutral playground, though I did wonder this time about the idiot who decided little girls and little boys needed to dress differently when they swim. Boys rip around in any old shorts and little girls must preen in miniature versions of mama’s bikini?
It’s not surprising that parents love the beach. It is the only place you can drink beer or Bloody Marys while you keep one eye on your child busily constructing a castle with a network of rivers that fill generously every time the Atlantic Ocean rolls in. You can watch her somersault into a pit someone else has been kind enough to dig a few hours earlier. Take turns to go for a dip with her. Collect shells. Write messages in the sand. Bury each other. Throw sand balls at each other. Have races. And still have energy left over for yourselves after she sleeps.
The beach should be a therapeutic requirement for prosperous urban Indians who fear the sun god. Bonus: It’s guaranteed to improve your abysmal vitamin D levels.
Don’t be scared. Prolonged exposure to the sun and sea breeze can melt away any city slicker toxins you might be lugging. Just looking at an ocean long enough makes you realize how utterly petty your worries and concerns are.
I promise you your skin will survive the experience. Most of us are lucky our brown bodies don’t turn lobster red, they just deepen and become a richer shade of chocolate—albeit with a few missed spots. Your nose is bright red, my mother observed when I met her after three solid days on a beach.
The beach is guaranteed to up your body confidence too. How long can you keep adjusting your bikini? Look around, nobody cares. Eventually, the ocean demands you relax.
If you’re unfit and wish to do something about it, the beach is always happy to provide a timely wake-up call. And it’s an arena where you can get to work immediately. Please run close to the water’s edge on the wet, packed sand if you do feel the sudden urge to exercise.
There are other beauty advantages too. If your hair is curly like mine, the sea works its magic attaching itself to every spiral, defining it. Throw away that overpriced hair product that promises to replicate the wonder of sea spray and just head to the beach instead.
It’s a great place to resuscitate your adventurous self. Get drenched, get dirty, shiver in too cold water, explore the tidal pools for marine life such as pufferfish, sea cucumber and hermit crabs. Wonder about the way a sea anemone clings on for dear life and let that take you on a philosophical journey about the importance of letting go. Try parasailing or dolphin watching.
If your idea of adventure is getting a tattoo, the beach is the best place to get new ideas. I’m thinking waist (love handles)...
The seaside acts as a time machine that takes you back to a simpler, more carefree age. An age when chappals (flip flops if you must) were the only accessory in your life.
Some families holiday at the same beach every single summer. My sun-drenched growing-up memories include riding horses on Juhu Beach with my brother; being chased by cows and building castles with my cousins at Madh and Manori; the discovery of Goa—a state full of beaches where nobody stared (at least in the 1990s).
But only when you travel out of India do you get lessons on how families really ought to enjoy the beach. Senior citizens in swimwear. All-day beach cookouts. Long early-morning runs. Kite flying. Patient fishermen. Sand-art festivals. If you have a choice, pick a country where people go to the beach, not the luxury resort overlooking the beach.
Everyone has a favourite beach. Mine is Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast with its black-sand beaches, a place where everyone nonchalantly imitates Bob Marley. And Tarkarli in Maharashtra because we once drove our WagonR into the sand there while on a month-long meander along the Konkan coast. A dozen local boys helped lift it off the sand.
The perfect holiday is a combination of family time and private time. Sun and sleep. Love and laughter. Reading a trilogy back to back. Spilling secrets over milkshakes. Lots of mangoes. Great seafood and an early start to drinking. An opportunity to reflect on what you really want out of life. The time to think about how you are going to go about getting it. For me the beach ticks all these boxes.
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