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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Travelling with Kids: India’s multi-generational genius

Shoba Narayan takes her family on a trip to Chennai to "reconnect with their roots."

My family and I are in ­Chennai for my cousin’s wedding. When I say family, I mean 10 people – my parents, my brother’s family of four and my family of four.

As usual, my brother and I become “culture ­maniacs”, as the children call it, using every opportunity and location to teach them the elements of Tamilian culture.

It begins with the radio on the ride to Chennai. Rather than listening to English rock and pop music, like they do back home in Bangalore, we switch stations to Tamil radio. “About time you kids learn to speak our mother tongue,” I say severely.

“Here we go,” someone mutters from the back seat. I can see their eyes rolling.

“Why don’t we switch to a Carnatic music station?” asks my brother, grinning at me. “Nooooo,” cry the voices in the back seat.

I launch into a long description of ragas and their variations. There are evening ragas and morning ragas, I say. And some ragas such as ­Amritavarshini could make the rain pour if you sung it.

“Is there any raga that can make a parent stop speaking?” asks my eldest.

“For that, missy, you are going to hear nothing but pure Carnatic music throughout the entire trip,” I reply.

My cousin’s wedding passes in a blaze of colours, flowers, music, feasts, silk saris, unrecognisable relatives and Chennai’s trademark heat. One evening, as the adults lie in a heat-­induced stupor, my niece comes in with a question that immediately arouses our suspicions: “Shall we go to a music concert?”

My brother and I frown at her. What’s this sudden interest in concerts? Chennai is known for its ­Carnatic music, something that all four children have been resisting for years. It turns out that the musician playing the concert in question, Anil Srinivasan, is a pianist. “He plays ­Carnatic music,” says my niece hastily. “Only with a twist.”

After some discussion, we decide to go. Anil ­Srinivasan does play ­Carnatic music on the piano. It offers a fresh twist on traditional songs. My parents hum along as they sing. The children turn shining faces at us: “Isn’t this great?”

My brother and I try our best to be grouches, but we find ourselves unable to. India has a genius for catering to multi-­generational families such as ours. There are multi-cuisine restaurants that serve dosas for grandparents alongside salads for parents and pizzas for children. And there are, it seems, musicians who appeal to all ages.

After the concert, my nephew – a football-loving teenager – surprises us during the car ride back by humming the traditional tunes he heard. Our spouses glance at my brother and I. Maybe this is the way forward – not to stuff tradition and culture down their throats, but to allow them to teach us new ways to engage with our heritage. My brother does the only logical thing – he buys several CDs of Anil Srinivasan to play on the six-hour ride back to Bangalore.