Learning to travel to London, UK

Flashback a few months before my day of travel –  I had received necessary papers from my husband in London, to join him. At that time, I had to go to Bombay (Mumbai now) from Madras (Chennai now) to the British High Commission to get my visa to join my husband. We were staying in my husband’s aunt’s home. My mom came with me since I had the baby with me so she could help me with him while I was interviewing at the visa office. I was told to go for my medical before the process and went to Breach Candy Hospital recommended by British High Commission. Went there, very intimidating building, didn’t know hospitals could look so palatial and “sophisticated”. Never been inside a hospital before; not sure how the system worked. I had my son in a small birthing clinic near my home.

Had albumin in my urine test (was told I was dehydrated) and was asked to take lots of fluids for the day and come back the next day to repeat the test.

My aunt told me to take lots of coconut water to reduce the dehydration the whole evening and night and passed the test next day without any problems. Whew!!!!!! went to the High commission got my approved visa. My aunt took me around showed me what the diapers (called nappies in UK) were, bought some and also showed me different things to take with me for my air travel. I felt that it was all information overload for an air journey and was getting extremely nervous even 2 months prior to actual trip. Learnt how to tie a nappy after coming home but then went back to not using it at all. Nappy was something way in the future; plenty of time to get used to when I moved, I thought. Why bother with it now and torture my baby with the contraption. Kids are trained earlier in south India, but then because of high temperatures year around in Madras, easy to manage without a nappy. My cousin who had traveled on a plane before, told me stewardesses on flights would help  me with diapers, or getting milk whenever needed and so I was telling myself that it won’t be that bad traveling on a flight.

Got back home and celebrated my son’s 1st birthday (my husband missed it), a  big religious celebration and lots of gifts to use in London for the baby.

bharat My husband’s brother and his family were visiting us and brought with them (being from North of Delhi) clothes appropriate to take with me to London. He is wearing one of those hooded jacket and full pants made of fur-like fabric, in the hot midday sun (probably around 95-100 F) to take a picture. He was extremely uncomfortable and cried until I took the clothes off. We were playing dress-up with all the new London-appropriate clothes and taking pictures. this was taken when he was 9-months old.

There was no new-born screening for Metabolic disorders so he was not diagnosed at birth for his metabolic condition. Being a vegetarian, I was feeding him mostly plant-based diet. Even though he was consuming cow’s milk and yogurt they were not in big quantities since he was still breast fed partially when he was one. His doctor before we left for London wishing us well in the new country, explained to me that milk was available in different varieties such as skim milk, whole milk etc. He was also encouraging me to feed him cheese and eggs which were not part of our diet in India

While in India my son never showed any symptoms of any kind of illness, in fact he had gone thru’ the age appropriate milestones like cruising and crawling and even starting to stand up and walk a few steps holding on to something. He was eating steamed vegetables like potatoes, green beans etc and some cooked rice with couple of spoons of yogurt, but he was on cow’s milk as well. without showing any ill side-effects. He was even starting to babble a lot and say a few words like “dada” “mama” , etc.

Little did I know it was all going to change drastically within a year after reaching London.


Our story

I was sitting on the floor in the middle of what I would call  – Chaos,  only way to describe it I suppose. The year was 1983 and it was May when Bharat, our son and I were scheduled to leave India to join my husband, Ram.  I was packing all the essentials – to start our lives in London, UK. Ram had already left 3 months prior, to start his Post doctoral studies at Queen Mary College, part of University of London. He had written via snail mail (those were the days without internet – horrors), that he was setting up house so we could land there and smoothly transition to that life with a one year old baby (gulp!!!!). Ram had warned when he reached there that it was unbearably cold, and it would be horrible to get there during that time coming from a tropical place, Chennai, India where all we had experienced was hot, hotter and hottest “climate” in a year. We had not experienced any distinct changes in the seasons, and I had no clue what it would feel like moving to a colder place, experience the snow……

The day was moving really fast, I thought, other than any other day, since everyone that we had known were dropping by to see both me and my son, Bharat to say “safe travels”. And then give me some advice about what to do when I get “there”, how to manage “there”, even though 99 % of them or may be all of them, have never left India. They had “advise” galore which made me even more nervous… on top of already having butterflies in my stomach……. I had packed a few Indian saris, some fancy ones as well, for the parties we were going to attend; everybody said that’s how it was in England all the time. Yes, those who had never left India, told me and were re-arranging my suitcase. I was numb watching everything happening around me as though I was having an out of body experience, totally removed from everything, nodding my head periodically whenever it sounded like someone was giving me an advice but nothing was sinking in fully. Life was about to get way more interesting….

things going thru’ my mind at that time…..

How do I manage travelling with my one-year old son on an airplane ? How would it feel to fly; Will I be able to sleep on the flight ? how do I sleep with my son with me?? These thoughts were nothing compared to what life was in store for me once I got “there”.

Little did I know I would be going on a journey that would alter our lives in a tremendously uncompromising way. Little did I know that me, who has never had a chance to cook a meal has to manage my son’s diet that would help him survive. I didn’t even know that people in other parts of the world had different types of cuisines. “Foreign” countries were in my thinking so far away and so far removed that I haven’t had clear understanding of how other cultures lived. The only time I had seen foreigners were when we watched international cricket matches on Television, which in itself was a new thing in many households in the 1980s. People used to go to watch the telly in neighbors or friends home which was quite the norm.

I grew up having a very sheltered life. Straight out of high school joined the University to do my Bachelor’s degree, in Chemistry, traveling every day in a “Ladies Special” bus to and from my college; getting there in the morning just before the classes started and catch the bus right outside the campus, right after the classes and coming back straight home. Never knew anything else, except studying and traveling to university on time and back. I never even thought about taking extra money in my book bag other than bus pass and that’s it.

Becoming a member and going to the library with my friend (American library close to my college) during a Saturday morning once in a blue moon was a very exciting trip. Spending the morning there browsing thru’ some books not related to my degree, reading romance novels were thrills of my life. I felt as though these things were adventures that I hadn’t imagined would happen to me when I was in high school. Traveling by myself on a public bus (no Ladies Special buses on the weekends) was great thrill.

I traveled via train in the final year of my degree alone from Chennai to Mumbai (roughly 750 miles), to visit my aunt, and it was again an unusual experience for me and my family. It took 2 days by train (women’s special “carriage” only) and everyone in my family were worried sick what was going to happen to me, a girl, traveling alone in a train. I was the black sheep (a girl black sheep, no less) who dared to travel alone at my age ( I was 17). Having all these rare experiences of “travel” and then suddenly at the age of 22, I was taking my son alone on a flight to London, UK, to join my husband. WoW!!!!!! Adventure begins!!!!!!!