Gayatri R Shah: Parents, stop whining about raising kids in Mumbai

Gayatri R Shah: Parents, stop whining about raising kids in Mumbai

With daily neighborhood play dates, thrice-daily home-cooked meals, 24-hour childcare and traveling tutors, you have it good

Gayatri R ShahMumbaikers love nothing more than to complain about the city’s various ills. And nobody does it louder than parents.

We sigh incessantly over the lack of parks and foliage. We complain that our open grounds are dust bowls monopolized by the cricket-playing lobby.

Cars run amok, making even the most innocuous street crossing an everyday battle between life and death.

The local zoo is in a sorry state and the less said about the aquarium the better.

Nursery and school admissions are becoming as competitive as getting into the country's top tech and management institutes.

So why would anyone elect to raise kids in this star-struck, heaving, teaming, humidity-cursed and often monsoon-soaked metropolis?

As a mother-of-two, I’ll tell you why.

Mumbai kids have a built-in network of "building friends" whom they can play with at all hours of the day, within their apartment grounds. In other cities, kids "go out" to play. Not so in Mumbai, where they “go down."

Neighborhood culture in Mumbai is so prevalent that there are tightly wound loops of self-sustaining communities which offer breadth (if not depth) of choice for kids.

In south Mumbai, most parents are familiar with the ubiquitous "Raju sir," who runs a network of coaches teaching football and gymnastics across different buildings six days a week.

In fact, the many educational and extra-curricular classes mushrooming around Mumbai make it feel like a mini entrepreneurial revolution is taking place in the child-rearing space. Even a six-month-old has got somewhere to be these days.

Music, dance, arts, crafts, cooking, swimming, tennis, golf, karate, football, languages, general knowledge and religion are just some of the courses on offer -- and these are the non-academic, extra-curricular activities.

Mumbai has other advantages compared to other cities in India.

The teachers and tutors here are attuned to commuting around town for house calls.

Rahul Trivedi, a trained pianist who gives private lessons, told me he teaches 35 kids across Mumbai. Some of his clients who relocated from other Indian cities to Mumbai have told him that house calls are more prevalent in Mumbai than elsewhere.

Apart from customized service, these teachers offer flexibility with timings which is sometimes needed by harried parents.

But even if your child commutes to an extracurricular class, and has to deal with traffic snarls, rest assured that other cities, like New Delhi and Bangalore have it much worse.

An Indian-American friend of mine, Nirva Patel, who has three kids under three, puts things in perspective.

“In Mumbai, even if both parents are working, your kids can have home-cooked meals three times a day courtesy of a part-time cook, they have 24-hour childcare, and there's always someone on hand to ferry them to and from classes if the mother can’t," Patel says.

"There’s never a ‘no’ for a child here. In America, the logistics alone would’ve been a nightmare. I’d have been struggling to achieve work-life balance,” she says.

Mumbai’s kiddie boom mirrors the rest of urban, affluent India’s, echoing a worldwide trend of modern parenting as a super-involved affair ("Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," anyone?).

Playgroups and proper schools are opening to meet this increased demand. Creative Kids in Cuffe Parade and By the Sea in Worli are just some of the newer nursery schools to have sprung up.

And lest we forget, the new status symbol amongst the city’s industry billionaires seems to hinge on founding a state-of-the-art K-12 school named after a forefather.

Mumbai’s jungle gym

Conventional wisdom says we live in a concrete jungle. That we don’t have a sprawling oasis of greenery like in other cities, with their neighborhood gardens and large parks, and peacocks, parrots and monkeys twittering about.

Mumbai neighborhood gameThe average apartment block in Mumbai has daily, commute-free play dates in the downstairs compound.But we’re the only major city in Asia to have a 100-square-kilometer national park within  city limits -- the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Sure it’s a trek, but as Sanctuary magazine’s Miel Sahgal says, “In which other city can kids see leopards running wild?”

The national park is also home to a variety of butterflies, birds, flora and fauna, as well as ancient caves.

We also have the sea, don't forget.

Beach town Alibaug is a one hour PNP or Maldaar boat ride away, or if you’re lucky enough to access a speedboat, even closer.

If you’re too lazy to make a trip to some of these destinations, the sights and sounds of the city can be quite entertaining from the top of an open air double decker bus.

Kids love train rides and so will their parents if scheduled on an off-peak weekend local train.

Mumbai may not be an ideal place to raise children, to be sure, but it’s time to stop bemoaning it as a godforsaken cement wasteland unfit for small, two-legged creatures.

Gayatri is a Columbia Journalism School graduate who has written on fashion, art and lifestyle for the International Herald Tribune, VOGUE, Conde Nast Traveller, Harper's Bazaar, HELLO!, CNNGo, The Book Review, ELLE, and The Hindu.

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