Not long ago, the words ‘summer’ and ‘vacation’ could scarcely be used separately. Not any more. As the academic year grinds to a hot, sweaty halt for school children, a large number of them are beginning to refer to these vacations as ‘holidays’. As nine-year-old Tarun Mendonza puts it: “If there’s no school it’s a holiday. Only when my papa, mama and I take a plane and go somewhere for one week, it is a vacation.” Tarun was a little miffed because his mother Cithara had explained to him that they wouldn’t be going anywhere this summer as they were saving for a European holiday “soon”. The truth was a little different: “Actually, my husband is working on a 180-day project and cannot even think of a vacation till Christmas. But we cannot explain that to him, so we have promised him a trip to Europe as compensation,” says the hassled 34-year-old soft skills trainer.
Courtesy corporate jobs, heavily loaded workdays, six-day-weeks and minimal breaks, the concept of the family summer vacation is fast becoming a pipe dream.
It’s difficult to make my son understand sometimes,” says Prashant Subramaniam*, who works with Wipro. “This year, the salary hikes have been cancelled and people have been laid off. Even asking my boss for a few days off can be fatal,” he says, tugging at his already loose tie. His worry is genuine. After having taken his wife and son to Italy, Rome, Greece and Spain last year, he fears that he may not be able to match the experience. “It so happened that last year we got a great deal from a travel website and we had some money saved up. Now, every time my son keeps saying that he wants to visit Disneyland, I can almost sense his disappointment,” he says.
While people who work in the insurance and banking sectors say that they plan at least a week’s vacation for the child’s sake, people in the IT and business development sectors say that it’s getting increasingly impossible. “My father worked at IOB for 32 years and he always took us for at least three days to Arni, Yelagiri or at least an uncle’s house. It was like a tradition,” remembers R Vasudevan, fondly. It is one of this civil engineer’s greatest regrets that he is unable to do the same for his two children. “My wife gets to spend a lot of time with them and takes them to my in-laws place,” he adds.
With an estimated 16 million Indians undertaking foreign trips in 2012, the tourism ministry and industry are quite at ease. “More and more families like packages. If it looks good to them and the price is affordable, they’ll take it. We have seen that many young couples plan a whole eight months in advance to take a summer vacation,” explains Suresh Krishna, a senior travel agent.
Despite what people say, there are still a good number of people across the State who manage to find the time to take their wife and children to their native places during summer, he adds. “Even if I may not be able to take more than three days off, I ensure that I take my wife and children to our village near Tirupur every May 1. After spending three days there, I leave them there for a month and go back to fetch them by early June. It gives me some bachelor time,” says Sudhakaran, an MTC bus conductor. After next year, he might not need to go fetch them as his son will be 15 by then, he adds. “This is something of an Indian tradition. Every time a child reaches 10 or +2, we find that their family vacations end from the next year,” adds the agent.
Interestingly, a large number of students say that they are usually prepared for what is to come that summer. “By March, I confirm what my parents have planned for me because my friends and I have to make plans on when we can meet and go for movies, otherwise,” says Bhuvana, a ninth standard student. They usually can tell when there are no summer vacation plans, when their parents start looking for summer camps and workshops to “make their time useful”.
If there’s one group of children that is lucky enough to have quality vacation time, it’s those who have teachers for parents. “Every summer is a mandatory vacation,” smiles Angeline, whose father is a school headmaster and mother works in a city college. She says, “My parents get time off in May and also on all the other holidays, so there’s no problem with finding time for a vacation. The problem is, after a while it seems like they have a little too much time!”
No Travel On Cards Now
A family of four, the Ravindrans have spent many vacations in Kodaikanal, Mysore, Bangalore, Yercaud and Hyderabad. Their daughter, Helen Cheruba, has just completed college and will be starting work soon. Younger son, Jonathan, has finished schooling this year.
Pearl Ravindran, a librarian at a city school, says, “When the children were still in school, we took family trips in summer. After Helen joined college, we went during September, as the school vacations clashed with her exams.” This year, Pearl says they haven’t planned any trip as a family yet, but the children are going to Bangalore with their cousins.
It’s a Family Get-together
Six-and-a-half year old Advik is a true son of the soil, says his proud mother Anupama. “He’s somehow never had a vacation that’s beyond the State border but has been to many places inside the State,” she adds with a laugh. Every year, for Anupama and her family, deciding where to go during the summer vacations is a reasonable easy task. “Somehow, our family has made a habit of scheduling weddings during April-May. So, its always been easy to decide where we will be vacationing as we make sure we go for the wedding and spend time exploring the place,” she informs.
Considering Advik has just completed his class I and will have a long and hot Chennai summer to contend with, his parents take care to ensure that he spends time with his “country cousins” and visit family during this time. “We are native of� Tenkasi, while other relatives live in and around Madurai and Tirunelveli. As my husband’s family has migrated to Chennai, we ensure that he gets to visit his roots and spend time down south,” she says. The spiraling inflation hasn’t really made a large difference to them, considering their vacations have been South-bound and mostly family-related.
As her husband works with the government, getting time off for a long vacation isn’t too easy for the college lecturer’s family. “At best, he’s managed to get about a week or so during summer. This is why we also take short breaks every time there’s a long weekend, even if it’s not during the conventional holiday season.”
Son’s Fun Comes First
Vacationing with a five-year-old involves putting his priorities first, says Anand N A. Before their child, Alan Joshua, was born, Anand and wife Sumitha took adventure and hiking trips to places like Ooty, Kodaikanal and places along the Kerala border.
“At that time both of us were working in the private sector, and used to take our vacations during November or December. It gave us a chance to spend time together, and since it was off-season in most of the places, we did not have crowds to deal with,” he says.
Now, trips are more conventional, as they have to factor in what the child would enjoy. Anand says, “Before we had Alan, we stayed in places where there wasn’t even proper food. Now we cannot do that. Even though we have gone to places like Valparai, Mettur and Nagarcoil again, our activities have changed.” Their time of vacation has also changed since Sumitha now works in a college, and Alan is in school, they travel in April, May or June.
Trip to Holy Land
Event manager and freelance musician Dayan Selwyn likes taking his wife and two daughters on weekend getaways. His eldest Jerusha, is four and younger one Jessica is two. His wife, Kavin, a dentist, is now a homemaker. “Sometimes when Jerusha gets back from school on Fridays, we leave in the evening, drive down to Pondicherry or Yelagiri for a couple of days, and get back in time for school on Monday,” says Dayan. Streamlining vacations to May and September even before their elder daughter started school has made sure the long vacations are maintained. Dayan says the only difference is that they had freedom to take longer trips before the children started school. “We went to London a few months after Jerusha was born and to Sri Lanka after Jessica was born.” This year, a trip to the Holy Land is on the cards — Israel, Egypt and Jordan.