Swanky holidays: Luxury as a way of life

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Swanky holidays: Luxury as a way of life

That was all it took for me to survive and enjoy a 12-hour bus journey to the mountains from my North-Indian home town during summer holidays. This was way back in the 70s and mid-80s. Much before the Indian middle class discovered that luxury was not just a word but a way of life.

Before package tours to Europe and to the rest of the wondrous, lush and hitherto inaccessible world made the impossible affordable. Before travel and lifestyle were accorded a TV channel of their own. Before domestic and international cruises could be squeezed into the wallet alongside credit cards. Before holidays became a style statement.

Before glossy magazines told us to aspire to private islands, chartered planes, spa vacations, chocolate and milk and rose petal baths, and holiday homes like the one inhabited by Seal and Heidi Klum somewhere in the Bahamas where he makes Guacamole and she poses for In Style magazine in diaphanous swim wear.

Enjoyment was a simple thing then. It was a slice of Nani’s neatly divided walnut cake (made in a sand-lined pressure cooker), dahi bhallas in green glass bowls, the sweet and sour, dehydrated slivers of a special mango pickle I haven’t tasted before or since the wonder years, the LP of Yaadon Ki Baraat and family gossip spun around Pakistani serials, Dhoop Kinare and Ankahi. Luxury was an occasional icecream cone or a paper cup of bhelpuri but mostly it meant walking to Subhash Chowk and Gandhi Chowk in Dalhousie in ‘formal’ clothes and watching the world of tourists go by on ponies.
It was a much loved summer ritual to head to the bus station in a rickshaw, early in the morning and then rattle towards Mandi or Dalhousie or Chamba or Palampur or wherever in Himachal Pradesh my Nani, favourite aunts and uncles were residing at that given point of time.

Dream vacations

And when I hurtled back home, I brought back memories that have lasted everything. Even the onslaught of aspirational TV programming.

The kind that tells you that you haven’t lived if you haven’t lived in snowed-in log cabins where a personal chef cooks your meals and a butler does everything for you, including unpacking your luggage. The kind where vacationers luxuriate in  jacuzzis cut on the face of mountains and in infinity pools that melt into blue oceans.

We gaze with open-mouthed wonder at how Sir Richard Branson’s island is rented out to select members of the billionaire’s club when he cannot get away from his 300 companies and is not free to enjoy its sunny decks and moon shaped Infinity pool and the master bath with its round, stone tub overlooking the ocean.

Some shows about dream vacations have a jeering commentary in a disdainful voice that says, “This is the closest you and I will ever get to real luxury!”And that kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

First we are told that our lives are not enough and that they will never be enough unless we can afford to buy denims encrusted with diamonds, sip vintage wines worth thousands of dollars, dine in hotels where gold leaf is on the roof and in the food, and live in the same ocean villa where Jennifer Aniston stayed with Vince Vaugn. And then there are those 1000 things to do before you die. So you haven’t yet stayed in a hotel made of ice? Been massaged with sea weed and mud? Tasted caviar in an ice cream? Rented a Vegas penthouse? Life is calling out to your wallet... where on earth have you been?

My 12-year old has never been to Tuscany but thanks to Samantha Brown, knows where to find the world’s best home style omelet. He cannot imagine 12-hour bus rides to happiness. He wants a Disney vacation. And if I can’t afford it, a few days in Goa would do.

Holiday memories no longer are the stuff of minutea. They are the stuff of dreams that must be lived hurriedly and ticked off the to-do list before life is over.

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