The children and I are on our way to the airport to catch a flight to Zurich. We have decided to be there at least three hours before departure to be able to take a tour of the newly inaugurated GVK (Mumbai International Airport).
We walk to the Swissair counter, which is fairly deserted at the moment, and we are possibly the first ones to check-in. “You need to hurry up and get to your departure gate as the flight is closing,” the gentleman at the counter warns me. “Whaaaa…t?” I say incredulously. “We are early, what do you mean the flight is closing?”
“Ma’am you are really late. The flight departs in 45 minutes, I only let you check-in because you are traveling with young kids,” he informs me generously.
This should give you an idea that I am a foggy brained person, who gets by in life purely by chance and because of consideration or pity shown towards me because of my “young children”. God bless them.
On the plane, I can hear the conversations between parents and children in on the seats across from me and I am pleased to bits with the realization that there are other politically incorrect parents like me on this planet. I used to think my own style of parenting had glaring flaws in it but the other parents on the plane are threatening to lock up their children or leave them behind on the plane. I am realizing that I am not the psychopathic tyrant my kids make me out to be but an all loving, all forgiving Julie Andrews from The Sound of Music type of mum. I am hoping the mother on the seat behind us continues to admonish her daughter audibly enough for my kids to hear it but she disappoints me by passing out on her seat even before the seatbelt sign is off. It is late in the night and before I know it I am the only dingbat fighting sleep just so I can lose myself vicariously to Downton Abbey on the monitor in front of me.
I stay up all night watching Season 4 of the British drama and by the time our flight lands at Zurich airport the next morning, I find that I have developed a British accent, clipped tones and all. I am also peppering my sentences with old Scottish expressions almost involuntarily along with “Oh golly” and “Dear me!”
Incidentally, the husband is supposed to fly in from Singapore and receive me at Zurich airport, mostly because he thinks I will lose his kids somewhere between Zurich airport and Zurich railway station, both of which are across the road from each other.
The reason we planned this holiday was to be able to spend quality time with each other, far from the sweating crowd of Bombay and the reason we chose Switzerland, in spite of the cold, is because of my love for the mountains. It is the month of March when my children get ten days off from school and after being seduced by the compelling charms of the Alpine slopes the previous year, we have decided to head to the Swiss mountains yet again.
We are to change two trains to get to Zermatt over a five-hour journey. Mr Perfectly Organized aka the husband has already bought online tickets for our onward journey. Not that buying tickets in advance was even required given that the population of this country is only 7.9 million. But we like to err on the side of caution and so we have purchased full fare, non-refundable tickets for the whole family in a single swipe.
The only fly in the ointment is that he has made all these arrangements for two days later than my actual flight arrival schedule, due to some mix-up for which I am partly responsible. Now I have to cover this daunting distance between Zurich and Zermatt with two large bags and kids in tow all by myself. I know, I make it sound like I am a participating cyclist in the Tour de France but I call this situation daunting, not on account of the distance between the two cities but because of my physical proximity to my two unbridled children during this journey. Add to that my inability to multitask and the occasional attention deficit disorder symptoms and you can comprehend the reason the husband is nervous about me chaperoning our children all by myself.
Be that as it may, here I am, buying all of us tickets for a small fortune that can see a family of six through school in a third world country, the exact kind from where Brad and Angelina adopt their children.
Minutes later we are dashing off to look for our platform, which is at the far end and I am concerned that we might miss the train. One crazy lady with two large suitcases and frenzied kids is seen running up and down Zurich Hauptbhanhofs, Europe’s busiest railway station and then, after identifying the train, finally flinging her kids and luggage into it with Olympic zeal.
The train leaves Zurich almost reluctantly while I sit there catching my breath, congratulating myself on crossing the first hurdle without any visible casualties. The kids are digging into a bag of crisps and I turn my attention to the landscape outside. Everything that I can see feels uninspiring at first. Factory units and industrial looking landscape, pass us by for a few miles and then the train chugs slowly into beautiful Bern. I greedily take in whatever I can see of Bern from my window…the stunning lakes, cathedrals with gothic spires and unusually narrow and quaint cobbled lanes. It is a picture postcard city all right. I feel a pastoral delight as I look out of the window, nose to glass, and observe the tiny villages with their miniature chalets and churches that appear every now and then on the landscape. I wonder about the simple lives of the inhabitants of these villages comprising of no more than six to eight families. I think about just how awfully healthy yet dull I might have been had fate allotted me such a life.
I take a break from gasping in awe at the sights that are quickly passing us by to look at the faces of my two uninspired children. Rarely will you have seen such bored expressions on a human face. “Don’t look so bored girls, look outside,” I suggest. My suggestion is met with a request for the ipad from the younger one. Thankfully I am not of a highly introspective disposition or the fact that I have spawned kids who are so epically disinterested in nature might’ve bothered me a great deal.
I take a short walk towards the cafe on the train and cannot help but notice that most passengers on this journey are senior citizens. My being there with my children has probably brought the average age down to 75, but other than us, there are no young people in sight. We could have been shooting a Swiss version of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on that train, for all one knew. Except that elderly British women tend to be haughty and rude apart from being plump and/or buxom while the Swiss ones look lean, fit, benevolent and a trifle bored.
Leaving Bern and Brig behind, we change our train at Visp where quite a few ski enthusiasts and snow boarders board the next train with us. Z and R are exhausted from boredom and bickering now. The train chugs along, towards steeper inclines.
The journey upwards is awe-inspiring even though it is incomplete without chloroform, which I wish I had with me to temporarily sedate the girls, to afford my elderly co-passengers and myself some peace. But in spite of the high decibel conversations followed by disagreements between them, I am getting by on account of the white wonderland scenery around me.
Ticket inspectors appear quite frequently on Swiss trains and spotting one approach in our direction, I dive into my oversized hobo to dig my carnet to show to the portly man. The gentleman punches our tickets tells me in an concerned manner that I might have been better off had I made the annual Swiss Rail family card instead. “You would have saved a lot of money and also got discount for your family on the ski lifts,” he informs me in a thick German accent. This is because we are in the German speaking part of this country. I tell the kind man in tragic tones, that the gentleman at the ticket window in Zurich did not inform me about any such pass thereby depriving some little boy in Cambodia of education. He empathizes with me and then as a token of his kindness and commiseration he scribbles all over my tickets in German. “I haf ritten here to refunt your money and make you das family pass zat is only half price. Show zis at Zermatt station, I cannot promise zey vill agree but you must try,” he suggests sincerely. I am so moved by the gesture and his overall avuncular impression that I want to give him a tight hug. I cannot imagine this happening to me anywhere else in the world other than Switzerland and yes, Japan.
Like a lazy caterpillar our red train is negotiating around white snow capped slopes dotted with lonesome snow covered chalets and winter-withered trees. An inexplicable feeling of bien-etre’ surges through me. I begin to feel healthier and more cheerful merely by looking at the mountains and can hardly wait for the train to arrive at our destination just so I can step outside and inhale the crisp mountain air.