As a child, I did not fly anywhere except to visit India, the country from where my parents emigrated to the United States. Air travel in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s was inconvenient and expensive and, as immigrants, any travel was a luxury.
On those trips to India, in 1982, 1987, 1990, and 1996, I became fluent in a language and a culture that continues to inform my self in profound ways. It cost my parents plenty of time and hard-earned money, but travel to India was their greatest gift.
My daughter, A, now three-years-old, has already been to India five times! We are based in Singapore, where flights from the Southeast Asian city-state to India’s major cities are plentiful and affordable.
I tell friends and family back home that our ability to travel to India for a weekend, as we did this Lunar New Year long weekend, is, by far, the best aspect of living in Asia, especially as we raise our third-culture child to be aware of and appreciative of both her American and Indian identities.
We recently spent several days in Chennai, the capital city of the southern state of Tamil Nadu. My parents-in-law, who retired several years ago and now spend winters in India and summers in Western New York, joined us.
Take a bus to Mahabalipuram, which is also known as Mamallapuram, a town 30 miles south of Chennai. The town, on the Coromandel Coast, is home to a group of ancient, intricately carved temples that have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Shore Temple, built in the 8th century, stands against the background of the churning blue waters of the Bay of Bengal and is the earliest significant freestanding stone temple in Tamil Nadu. It houses shrines to Shiva and Vishnu and is utterly magnificent.
Don’t forget sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, an umbrella, and a water bottle; temperatures in Tamil Nadu can soar to 100°F in May and June.
A could subsist on idlis, South Indian steamed rice cakes! The idlis at Murugan’s Idli Shop (77-1/A, G.N. Chetty Rd.) are divine and perhaps some of the best I have ever tasted. Make sure you order the house specialty, a ghee onion uttapam, which is a thick rice pancake, and the filter coffee.
Tara Books is a Chennai-based independent publisher best known for its stunning children’s picture books made entirely by hand (screen printed and hand-bound). Since 1994, Tara Books’ collective of artists, writers, and designers have given voice to India’s marginalized regional folk art traditions.
Tara Books’ Book Building (9 CGE Colony, Off Kuppam Beach Rd.) houses the publisher’s editorial offices, an art gallery, and a retail shop.
A owns a number of Tara Books’ titles and she added I Like Cats by Anushka Ravishankar and illustrated by various artists, Alphabets Are Amazing Animals by Anushka Ravishankar and illustrated by Christiane Pieper, and Gobble You Up! by Gita Wolf and illustrated by Suntia, among others, to her bookshelves.
Where we stayed
The Residency Towers Chennai (115 Sir Thyagaraya Rd.) has spacious rooms, an attentive staff, and multiple family-friendly restaurants.
Pooja Makhijani writes children’s books, essays, and articles, and also develops educational media and curricula. Follow her at twitter.com/notabilia.