The other day I read a social media post on how we’ve all become slaves to our summer vacations. How we spend the summer has become, like one’s car, clothes and address, criteria upon which we’re judged, by ourselves as well as by others. Consequently, leisurely holidays in Mussoorie, Shimla and Nainital have become passe, and people are looking to travel to more distant shores. I realised that the summer vacation is extending its tyranny beyond the upper middle class, when Rakesh Singh, an Uber driver and owner of two taxis, had a long conversation with me about Thailand as a tourist destination, when we were stuck in traffic jam on a rainy afternoon.
“This year when the summer holidays begin, I thought I’d give my children a surprise,” he told me. Instead of spending the summer as they always did, in their village near Amritsar, Singh wanted to treat his family, especially the boys, to something new. So, he planned to take them on a pilgrimage to Hemkund Saheb in the Himalayas. Reached by a day-long road journey followed by a 12-km trek, it promised to be an exciting experience. “My late mother always wanted to go there and I couldn’t fulfil her wishes,” he said. “I wanted to say a special prayer for her at the holy shrine.”
However, his sons, aged 12 and 16, were not very excited by the idea of going for a pilgrimage during their summer break. Both studied in Kendriya Vidyalaya in a prosperous part of west Delhi, and many of their friends were going to exotic destinations, some even to foreign locales, during the summer. They, too, aspired for more. Could they not go to Goa instead, or maybe, if their father was feeling generous, he could take them to visit their uncle in Dubai?
Singh was nonplussed. His household income was about Rs 55,000 a month, of which only his wife’s schoolteacher salary of Rs 20,000 was fixed. “While our daily lives are comfortable, I’m always conscious that my income as a taxi owner is variable,” he said. “So I’m careful to keep a nest egg for contingencies.” Singh had calculated that the five-day pilgrimage would set them back by about Rs 40,000. “Spending more than that, while not impossible, won’t be prudent, I felt,” he said.
The children were adamant about not going on the pilgrimage. Singh was adamant about not spending any more on their vacation. The wife was adamant about not going to Singh’s native village to spend the summer with sundry in-laws. The ensuing stalemate resulted in their spending the entire vacation in Delhi. “While I know what I did was right,” said Singh, “I feel guilty every time I look at their faces.” So the Uber driver has decided to work a couple of extra hours a day, to add funds to his Rs 40,000 summer vacation kitty, to plan a big vacation to Thailand next year. “It’s cheap, has beaches and is a foreign country so the boys will be satisfied,” he said. “Also, no one in my family has been abroad for a vacation, so we’ll be the envy of all.”
Singh’s only worry was that the Thai vacation would set the bar too high for the future. “I’m already working for some extra hours,” he mused. “Perhaps, my wife could look for a better-paying job or take tuition classes.” If that happened, they might be able to put aside enough to visit Dubai the following year, he said. His children’s aspirations would get bigger and Singh would end up blowing up his annual savings on exotic foreign holidays, I pointed out. “True,” he said thoughtfully. “But at least they will all be happy.”