My Best Summer Holidays

— Archana Swaminathan

Employed in an airline, my dad had the privilege of globetrotting frequently. Precisely why, we got to go along with him to several places within and outside India. My memories of visits to Mauriti us, Dubai, Singapore, Srinagar, Shimla and Leh are still green and fresh. “The tour across Europe is long overdue” he would often say. He firmly believed in matching promise with performance. We were really excited.

That was when, in April 2000 my dad was roped in for an assignment to Ethiopia. I was just eleven years and my sister two less. Worried over the infections and hygiene levels, he decided to take only my mother this time. They were scouting for a place to see us through the summer holidays. After diligent deliberation they decided to drop us at Conoor where my grand maternal uncle resided. The old couple readily agreed to host us.

Initially the two of us were morose and tense having been left out of the tour. Also, we had to be spending the time in a place and people not too familiar to us. Looking back, it is still one of my best holidays and a life change experience at that. The man of the house was a war veteran having been decorated with Param Vir Chakra in the 1965 and 1971 wars. He was ably supported by my gracious maternal grand aunt. The happy and contented couple made our stay memorable from day one. No sooner our parents left us the elder took us in his fold. Initially we were reluctant and reticent overawed by his personality. He was genial giant I would say.

The tough exterior encapsulated a soft heart of gold. He believed in planning things to perfection. That night over an early dinner he chalked out a schedule for both of us (me and my sister) for the month. He insisted that we maintain a diary jotting down the day’s events.

20th April 2000 6 a.m. (Extract from that diary) we were up and about in our woolens and walking shoes. Accompanied by the friendly Tommy (the genial German shepherd dog) we went alongside him with brisk strides. It was chill and there was nip in the air. The birds and the bees busied themselves. The sylvan setting and the early morning calm was indeed invigorating. Back after an hour we had a hot bath followed by a short prayer. A nutritious breakfast spread was waiting. A lesson in etiquette and table manners was imparted to us. Shortly he introduced us to his vast collection of books and memorabilia. While we poured over the lovely collection he left for the tea estate. Soon enough the lady of the house took over. Her energy level simply stumped us. She took us to mend the garden along with the gardener cum watchman. Through persuasive compulsion she taught us to knit and paint. What lovely pillow covers we made!

Lunch at 2 pm was both healthy and tasty. We indulged in the fare with delight. While the old man rested, the lady began our lessons in piano. The evenings were spent in the courtyard playing badminton and Tommy. For their age, they were surprisingly ‘fit as a fiddle’.


While we enjoyed the mock tails (combination of fruit juices), the old couple sipped black tea on the lawn. At dinner time the old man relived war time stories much to our excitement over a camp fire. The lively couple loved guests and threw a party ‘at the drop of a hat’. They suggestively involved us in the preparation. I learnt to make puddings and bake a cake too. Perfect to detail the guests felt it was a ‘home away from home’. We also went in tow with them to the parties hosted by others. It was unforgettable lifetime education for us.

My sister’s birthday was made a memorable occasion. The couple planned and celebrated it in an orphanage with the hapless and lesser privileged kids. It was a birthday with a difference. We experienced the joy in sharing.

The weekends were reserved for sightseeing to tea estates, Doddabetta, Ooty and other places of tourist interest. We enjoyed the packed lunch as much as the picnic in all these scenic spots.

The gardener was an expert herpetologist or so it seemed. He showed us the harmless green snake, the water snake and the deadly viper too. Repulsive initially seeing these slimy and slithering creatures we evinced interest over his narrative on the habit and habitat of these reptiles. Astounded by his knowledge, I thought he could give a run to Romulus Whitaker the renowned herpetologist.

My parents landed a week ahead of the schedule and were pleasantly surprised on our behavior and the consciously cultivated habits. When it was time to bid adieu to the old couple, Tommy and the gardener, it was really difficult to hold back our tears.

In keeping with his promise my dad did take us to Europe and other places in the following years. I am married now and even been on a honey moon to exotic places. Yet, the summer of 2000 is the best ever vacation till date.

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