The collective desire to fly and be free
In the middle of our holiday in the mountains, we stopped at a brook gurgling down between two slopes along the road to Barot in Himachal Pradesh. Like a magnet seeking its opposite pole, I walked up closer to the source of the stream. As the water gushed over a rocky bed, its surface had become wavy and undulating. Dappled sunlight created the familiar pattern of scales on a reptile’s skin.
I put my hand under the surface to let the light and water glide on my palm. As if I was allowing a snake to pass over my hand in peace. As if I was letting go of something I had held too tightly. A fistful of fears, perhaps.
Is it still a holiday if you take your worries and entanglements with you? At the stage of life we are at, it is a real holiday for us when we can be alone with just ourselves as a family—no doorbell, no deadlines, no phone calls to return. No other commitments.
This time our family baggage included one child’s allergies, another’s anxiety, everyone’s exhaustion, and a collective desire to fly and be free. Even if that meant long days of driving on highways and listening to the same playlists. So long as it included lots of experiments with food, deep sleep and spurts of good conversation.
It was Diwali break in schools and instead of driving straight to our friends’ home in the mountains, we stopped for the night in Anandpur Sahib.
I was very enthusiastic about visiting the Virasat-e-Khalsa, the awe-inspiring museum of Sikhism in town, but as soon as morning dawned, I realized that all I wanted to do was go to the Anandpur Sahib gurdwara with my family. I remembered my mother’s enthusiasm about visiting gurdwaras everywhere we travelled as children, and tried to look less excited than I was feeling.
As we all wore scarves to cover our heads, I took photographs of the moment. We relaxed and listened to gurbani together, creating new memories for another generation in the family.
As we left Punjab behind and drove into the Kangra valley, I tried to convince our children once again of the charm of travelling in state transport buses.
“One day we will do road trips by bus,” I said.
They reacted as if I was suggesting a stint in a gas chamber.
“Arre, you don’t know anything yet,” I said, trying to articulate the charm of listening to local music on dusty, bumpy, unpredictable bus trips through India’s countryside. I wondered at my own self. What makes our memories acquire the soft sepia tone of nostalgia? What are we trying to recreate when we attempt to relive our own childhood with our children?
The next day, our hosts suggested paragliding from Bir Billing, and everyone was immediately enthusiastic. Except me. Secretly, I laughed at myself again. I wanted to stay on the ground as my husband and children flew off cliffs with professional pilots behind them, as if my staying on the ground was going to keep them safe. I distracted myself with a Maggi treat in Billing as my family soared in the skies above.
Sometimes you know your holiday is going well even though you may be acting like a grump. You take all of yourself on a holiday—the part desperate to relax, the one ready for adventure and the one that is knotted up and heavy with unresolved grief. I ordered a honey-lemon-ginger tea to detox after the instant noodles.
Our children watched our hosts set up a telescope and together they gazed at the stars as I slept inside, soft and cosy in my bed. With their new friends, the children learnt to identify constellations. They saw the Milky Way and wondered how we can see something far in the sky if the earth is itself a part of it.
The next evening, everyone took turns to admire Saturn and its rings through the telescope. When I squinted into the viewfinder, all I could see was a small, blurred paper clip in the evening sky. Is this what everyone else was so excited about?
We bought potatoes from a field from a woman farmer who was harvesting and packing them in sacks to send to the market. I became besotted with rajma (kidney beans) in Barot and its upper villages. We stopped our car to admire the rajma plants growing in the fields. Different-coloured beans were drying in the sun in the courtyards of village homes. We had a divine rajma-chawal lunch at an eatery, 5,000ft above sea level.
“Why are you wearing my sweatshirt?” asked my husband, as we were changing into our nightclothes after a long day in the Barot valley.
“I’ve been wearing this every winter for two years now,” I said. “It is practically mine.”
“Yeh toh beimani hai ,” he said. “This is not fair.”
“It is all perfectly square and fair,” I mumbled, as we snuggled into bed.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and author of the book My Daughters’ Mum.