I was actually fantasizing about my Kolkata holiday this year. Before I boarded the flight to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport I could already smell the chelo kebabs at Peter Cat, hear the Durga Puja drums beating at Maddox Square and thinking of having a ball with my friends and family. And I thought at two and a half my son was finally old enough to savour the sights and sounds of my lovely city.
The flight went great
The last few times we have been to Kolkata with my son the trouble started on the flight itself. Either he bawled his head off all through, didn’t sleep through the night flight and stayed cranky or insisted on walking down the aisle constantly. Even before touchdown in Kolkata we were drained out. But this time we had our ammunition ready: a set of plastic zoo animals that we gave him the moment he started getting jittery. That took care of the four and a half hours from Dubai to Kolkata. An added bonus: he liked the steaming pasta served in the kids’ meal, liked his seat belt, liked the cartoon and even slept.
He loved Kolkata
He loved being scooped up into the arms of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law at the gates of the airport, loved being showered with all the attention and toys the moment he reached home and bonded with grandpa and grandma so well that he declared on the very first day, “I am staying in Kolkata. I don’t want to go to Dubai.”
Thanks to the hardy inverter my son even slept through the four hours of power cut in Barrackpore (a bustling town on the outskirts of Kolkata where my husband’s family live). My husband and I were pleased and crossed our fingers hoping for a hitch-free Puja in Kolkata.
The doc experience
Three days later we moved to my parents place in Kolkata and that very night my son came down with fever. I started giving him a medicine prescribed by his doctor in Dubai and the very next day the fever was gone although I could feel he was getting a cough. We thought it best to see a doctor. We saw one of the best pediatricians in Kolkata. He prescribed medicines for dry cough and if it turned wet we would have to switch to another medicine that he wrote down. Three days passed with my hubby and I constantly trying to judge our son’s cough and failing miserably most of the time. Every time he coughed our ears were at attention and then we ended up arguing over the type of cough. We couldn’t get to the wet-dry conclusion but one thing was for sure it was consistently getting worse till he started coughing and vomiting phlegm in the night. We rushed to the doc again. We somehow felt my son was having some kind of allergy from dust and pollution but the doc was more intent to know if the cough was dry or wet. Sigh!
New set of medicines were prescribed but needless to say it wasn’t working that well because for the fifth consecutive night my son was coughing and vomiting. We had a family trip scheduled for Mandarmoni, a beach resort four hours away from Kolkata. Now we weren’t sure if we wanted to go. We switched doctors. The pediatrician in Barrackpore prescribed different medicines and asked us to go ahead with the trip. He assured us he would get better by the sea. “Just switch off the fan early in the morning. The weather is changing,” he advised. I gasped. “My son can’t sleep without the air conditioner,” I blurted out. The doc was angry but he refrained from being rude. I could understand his disgust. I explained to him we live in Dubai. But that did not cut much ice. I couldn’t blame him. When my friends came to Kolkata after a year in the US and always covered their nose and drank mineral water I looked at them with disdain. Now I know. I can’t blame my poor son. He is born in Dubai where air-conditioning rules. He is used to this environment. Not the best I know, but if you are living in the desert you don’t have much choice.
“You have to get him out of this a/c habit if he has to go to school,” said my brother-in-law, who had dutifully accompanied us to the early morning doc appointment. I said apologetically, “In Dubai schools are air-conditioned, even groceries and bus stops are. When we return to Kolkata for good we will ease him into the weather here. Till then let him have his air-conditioner at least during sleep.”
Thanks to the new doc he did get better. But in the hotel in Mandarmani where we were paying through our nose for the rooms we were faced with a new predicament. The hotel failed to provide simple overdone rice and dal that my son could have. The rice was hard like pebble and chillies were swimming in the dal. My son survived on Cerelac and formula for two and a half days.
By now feeding him and administering medicines had become quite a nightmare and he expressed his discomfort by being overtly naughty. I was so engrossed with him I just failed to notice the lovely sea and failed to get involved in the family fun. I only saw the layer of dust in the bed frame that my son dug his nails into, the mosquitoes in the room that made me apply anti-mosquito wipes constantly. I was actually carrying those from Dubai. Because of the dengue scare Kolkata was out of stock on anti-mosquito cream Odomos. I thought I was being a hypochondriac in this regard but I realised my fellow Kolkatans were far more scared than me. My sis-in-law wasn’t stepping out without anti-mosquito cream in the day time (because dengue mosquitoes strike in the day) and all my friends applied the same on their children when they went to school. But Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was still blaming her detractors for fuelling rumours of dengue death which were actually heart attacks she claimed. Gosh!
At last Mocambo
Back in Kolkata from Mandarmani by son had now taken to ransacking the kitchen cabinets, the book cabinets, the dressing table, the dining table and both my husband and I were tired averting the disasters. My Peter Cat dreams had almost died by then. Just then a friend asked us to meet them at Mocambo, our other favourite on Park Street. My husband pointed out if we were staying at home we were doing the same thing, keeping hawk eyes on our son and keeping up with his tantrums. “In Mocambo at least we will have chicken tetrazzini to look forward to,” he reasoned. I thought, “What the hell? My holiday is almost gone and all I am feeling is worried and fatigued. I want my tetrazzini now.”
Hadn’t it been for this very kind lady at the next table, who kept talking to my son, while I dug into my food and the very sweet waiters who kept him company we probably wouldn’t have known how the tetrazzini tasted. Of course dinner was intercepted by trips to the balloon seller on Park Street and bouts of coughing but still for the first time on our holiday we managed to relax the muscles on our shoulders a wee bit.
Then came Puja
Puja came and it was my best friend’s birthday too. He decided to celebrate it at Anderson Club, the club that I have been frequenting since age three. There was plenty of green grass to run around and fresh air too, I thought my son would enjoy. Once inside I came to know the party was at the bar where children were not allowed. Since my husband was on urgent family duty, my mom was keeping my son company but could I leave the running around on a 75-year-old lady and enjoy pepper chicken and coke? Eventually I was at the lawn and my coke went hot on the bar table. Then disaster struck! My son threw the toy plane he was carrying with him into the fountain. There was no stopping the howling. My friend very kindly dropped us home immediately.
Finally some fun
But still I was determined not to let the last few days of my holiday slip away just like that. Thanks to a friend and her husband and their two sons who bonded with my mine, we did go to Maddox Square, had some amazing Mughlai and Chinese food. We also devoured some excellent food cooked by my aunt-in-law when she kept my son engaged showing him all the cats in the backyard of her house. We managed to have some fun at my cousin’s place too or on a coffee date with an old friend.
But the only day when I had some unadulterated fun was on Nabami when I met all my school friends. My hands-on-husband was at home with my son. That was the only time I was not trying to judge my son’s cough, I was not thinking of what he would eat for lunch, when he should sleep and if I had remembered to give him his medicine. It was the only three and a half hours in a span of one month when I truly relaxed.
When I was telling my holiday woes to a friend she said, “What were you thinking? Full-time moms of two-year-olds have no holidays. You just have to make the best of the opportunities you get.”
I think I did. And I am also grateful to God that I boarded the flight back to Dubai with a fully-recovered two and a half -year-old. Phew!