All set for a day out with the kids? Hold on. Theres one tiny problem. Where do you take them?
Calcutta, alas, has a dearth of options when it comes to good, clean, kiddie fun. We in India have never truly understood what a good museum or park is about, so both of those options, so popular around the world, are all but ruled out. There is an even greater dearth of creative outlets that dont require life-long enrolment.
So what do you do on an afternoon off? The last thing we want is for GeNext to be homegrown PlayStation by-products. Nor do we want them to be adult clones. Here are five places children should go, and five places they should avoid for the sake of everyones sanity…
Entertainment zones: If you have kids, you must have done your rounds of Nicco Park, Aquatica and Science City. So well leave those, which is just about enough meat for one weekend, out of this. Millennium Park, the Zoo and Victoria Memorial too, for whatever limited attractions they offer, are no-brainers for the Calcutta parent.
The hot new thing to try is Scary House at Mani Square, the Indian adaptation of Londons House of Horrors. Meant not just for kids but also for young adults, the 6,000 sq-ft zone resembles an old haunted house with dead creatures that come alive from behind creaking doors and moving walls. With an entry fee of Rs 50, its the fun-fear factor that rules. In India there is nothing to attract children and it was in 1997 that we first created a team for these kinds of concepts, says T. Srinivas, the man behind Scary House. The response has been great from Calcutta, he adds.
Soon, in addition to Scary House, welcome House of Wonders, Crazy House and Mirror Maze. Meet a 20-ft King Kong who can carry you in its palm, dinosaurs that emerge from walls or shake hands with Rabindranath Tagore and Albert Einstein.
The recently-opened Scary House at Mani Square is a new haunt for youngsters on the fun-fear trail. Picture by Rashbehari Das
Social clubs: Every child who has grown up privileged enough to have club membership will tell you how special this can be. Not only does it provide easy access to outdoorsy activities that kids love so much, they have a never-ending supply of friends. Clubs can make up for the punishing urban spaces children are now restricted to. Take one look at the childrens corner in Tollygunge Club and you will know what we are talking about.
However, here too there are rules. Calcutta Club doesnt allow kids within the premises except on Thursdays and Sundays. That too, only those above eight years. This has been our club policy for donkeys years, says Sambhu Mukherjee, club president.
Others like Saturday Club have become more relaxed over time. A few years ago, children — and the rulebook says anyone below 16 is a child — were allowed to stay late in the club only on Thursdays. Then the rule was changed and children could stay till 10.30pm on all days except Saturdays. We still reserve Saturday nights for adults only because we believe in giving space to everyone, says Rajen Sood, president of Saturday Club. In the dining hall, too, kids only above seven years are allowed, Tuesdays being an exception. Bicycles and prams are also shown a red flag in many places of the club.
To compensate, clubs have introduced childrens corners with slides and jungle gyms, a separate library or edu-centre and holiday camps.
Game zones: While it might not be a whole lot better than PlayStation, video arcades like Timezone and Timbak Too, Sparkz and Amoeba (the latest gaming zone at Mani Square complete with simulators, interactive games and bowling alley) are increasingly popular. And its something the family can do together.
Timezone, that opened its second city outlet at South City Mall (after City Centre), is teeming with children and their equally excited parents. The average spend has gone up to about Rs 400 per family on weekends, says Abbas Jabalpurwala, operations (head), Timezone (India). Driven by demand, new games are launched regularly, keeping the novelty factor alive.
Malls: Unfortunately, in our city, this makes it to the list. With Calcutta now boasting more malls than ever, they are keeping the kids — and their mommies — busy. The relatively safe spaces also pack in game stops, play zones and eateries at one location. Some malls even offer drop-off play dens. If Forum has Kool Kidz, South City Mall and City Centre have a Soft Play section at Timezone. Maids and helpers are allowed to accompany the children, too.
The downside: having to deal with incessant requests to buy this or that.
Kiddie parties: The easiest way to get your kids off your hands for a few hours! A party at your childs friends house is the safest option by far. Dress them, drop them off and pick them up when its over… I never refuse an invitation to a birthday party, smiles Minakshi Tagala, mother of two kids, a 10-year-old and an eight-year-old. And if youre hosting one, the venue (which used to be the biggest headache) has found a solution in play zones with separate sections and packages for birthday parties. However, dont go overboard with the luxe factor. Birthday celebrations at Montessoris have become extravagant theme-based dos with expensive return gifts. Some pre-teens have even been known to hit the nightclubs for supervised, alcohol-free dos. We say, avoidable.
Fashion shows: How much can a 12-year-old understand of a fashion show? Yet at several such dos, mothers are casually seen with toddlers tagging along for timepass. I was surprised to see so many kids at last months Cherry Orchard fashion show, says homemaker Sarita Mohta, mother of two boys. Just because theyre getting bored at home and theres nowhere else to take them, doesnt mean they can accompany you anywhere.
Nowadays, event invites are instructing guests to leave their kids at home. When common sense fails, youve got to spell it out.
Movie halls: Having a child wailing, clinging, yelling, prancing around and doing just about anything that disturbs viewers in the cinema hall is beyond irritating. If its a kids film, its par for the course. But please dont take your kids to movies meant for adults, even if the hall will sell you a ticket.
Restaurants: If you are invited out for dinner, theres always confusion about leaving your kids home alone or just dragging them along.
I avoid taking out my three-year-old son unless it is to a friends house. We are unable to handle him and he keeps crying and clings to his father or to me, says mother Ritu Banerjee, 32. But depriving children of social interaction is not the way to deal with tantrums. You can pick and choose restaurants. McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut are a hit with the kids. Or try Machaan, a theme restaurant at Mani Square with a jungle-like ambience. Some thoughtful restaurants — there are too few — keep playthings. If you are a regular at Bar-B-Q, you couldnt have missed the crowd of balloons tied to the staircase. Those have kept kids entertained for generations!
Late-night parties: By taking your children to a late-night party, you arent doing anyone any favour. Unless your hosts have children of their own, or you are expecting a turnout of kids, keeping kids up past bedtime and letting them listen to adult gossip on a regular basis is a bad plan.
Theres an age for everything. Nowadays, children either attend late outings or watch TV with the rest of the family members till late at night. They dont get adequate sleep, get up late the next morning and their concentration suffers the next day in class. Parents must make unwritten rules about bedtime, feels Angela Gomes, mathematics teacher, Calcutta Girls High School.
Beauty parlours: Why are young children allowed to hang around para parlours as women get every last hair yanked off their bodies? Why cant they learn about waxing and other traumatic truths in their own sweet time? And speaking for all of those pained women, having a three-year-old watching you with round, astonished eyes is insult upon injury.
Agnimitra Paul: It’s a sad situation for those who live in high-rise buildings. I wish there were more parks in the city where I could take my six-year-old son Vighnesh. The only option I used to have is Kool Kidz at Forum and now there’s Timbak Too as well. But these are all indoors. When we eat out, it’s KFC on Park Street because Vighnesh loves chicken.
June: When my daughter Shivangini, 15, and son Shivendra, 14, were younger, I used to take them to Nicco Park, Science City or Aquatica. As they grew up, Tollygunge Club became a favourite. Nowadays, I see such little kids come with their parents for late night movies or adult films. Parents should know where to put a full stop.
Meera Vaghani: I love to take my kids to malls like South City with different places to eat and shop. Dinner is usually at Bar-B-Q and no matter what age, Dhruv, 11, and Dhiraj, 6, always want a balloon before the food comes. CC&FC is an everyday affair where they socialise. Calcutta needs better game parks than Nicco Park, something like Disneyland or Legoland. The zoo should be upgraded to suit kids.