I don't remember how old I was when my father drove up to our door one day in an army jeep. He was most definitely not in the army at that time, and I have no idea how he got his hands on that automobile. It was larger than a jeep, a squat, most unattractive conveyance that still wore its regulation dull grey paint. The 'roof' was stiff canvas that had to be secured tightly to the frame, or it was prone to blowing off while driving above twenty miles an hour, and was no match for the monsoon season. A grinding stick shift topped with a giant knob, non-existent shock absorbers and no doors or sides - are you getting the picture yet? Inexplicably, my father chose to paint the Trekker (that's what it was called) a bright, shiny parrot green. Let me tell you, that thing turned heads wherever we went.
I do remember vividly that I was ten years old when I was taught to drive this behemoth. I highly recommend learning how to drive in an unwieldy, cantankerous vehicle in Indian traffic. I guarantee you will be able to drive anything, anywhere in the world after that. All of a sudden, my status in my family improved. No longer was I the baby in the family, I was now the on-call, mostly willing chauffeur, driving my mom and her friends to the gurudwara and tasked with errands. Mostly though, that glorious Trekker meant that our family, my aunts, uncles and cousins and our dogs could all go places together. And I do mean together, as in at the same time.
Come Saturday, our anticipation would start to build. Preparations would be made, the gigantic biryani pot would be brought down from storage. My mother would wake up early on Sunday to cook biryani, and then the uncles and aunts would start to arrive. My cousins who are reading this will remember - one time, there were twenty three of us in that Trekker. That was not a typo. Pride of place had to be given to the biryani pot however, still steaming hot and wrapped with an old towel to retain heat and finish the cooking process. Once we were all in, sitting on each other's laps and on whatever surface was available, the drive to Fisherman's Cove would begin. If memory serves me correctly, it took about two hours to get there, to this gorgeous, five star beach resort where it would be impossible for us to even afford a ThumsUp. But, you could pay for day use of their sparkling blue pool, and beach access. A few years after we started going there, they stopped this practice. Coincidence? I don't think so. Our family is known for being rather boisterous, to put it politely.
Of course all that swimming made us ravenous, and we kept popping our heads towards the mothers, who decided when it was time for lunch. At which point we would pile back into the Trekker, and drive off the fancy resort property, to park under the shade of an ancient banyan tree. When my mom broke the seal of the pot and opened the lid, I swear you could smell the aroma of that biryani a mile away. That tree provided the perfect shade under a scorching coastal sun, but also housed a rather large monkey population. We were not inclined to share even a tiny bit with them, and they weren't going to share their tree with us politely. The more we hoarded our food and shooed them away, the more emboldened they became. They managed to steal our food sometimes, and at other times we prevailed. We have our fair share of anecdotes under that banyan tree with those monkeys.
The drive back as the sun was setting always had us sleepy, but sated. Our hair stiff with drying salt water, and our skin sunburned. Waiting for our turn to shower when we returned home, and dreading school the next morning. But the hope of another Sunday, another day at Fisherman's Cove, another pot of biryani and another battle of wills with monkeys kept us going until the next time we piled into the Trekker again.
Pictured below, on the playground at Fisherman's Cove. Circa 1983, I think.
Wife, mother, baker, jam maker, hug dispenser, reader.