Overseas Singaporean Mama Divya Chablani shares her top kid-friendly travel picks for Mumbai, India
This week’s overseas mama, Divya Chablani, is a Singaporean SAHM living in Mumbai, India with her husband and three tweens! She tells us what it’s like having lived abroad for over 12 years now, shares her love for Bollywood and speaks about how she’s trying to instill multilingualism in the household. Keep scrolling for her insightful words, and feast your eyes on some drool-worthy travel pics!
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am Divya and I’m 44 years old. I was born in Singapore and lived there until I was 31 years old before moving overseas with my husband. My family and I currently live in Mumbai, India. We have three daughters, twins who are now 12.5 years old and our youngest who is 7.5 years old. I have been a SAHM since we’ve had our twins in 2007.
My husband and I had an arranged marriage and we met through mutual family friends in 2001 (yes, it existed in our community even then!). We’ve been married for almost 19 years now. I had always wanted to live in Singapore after I got married as I would like to be near my parents and I had told them I would prefer a life partner from Singapore. Who knew destiny would bring me around the world?
What brought you to Mumbai, India? How long have you been living overseas?
We’ve moved around because of my husband’s work. He works for an airline and, unlike me, he has always wanted to work outside of Singapore! His dreams came true in 2007 when he was posted to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. We lived there for about 15 months and returned to Singapore in 2008.
We had our twins then and lived in Singapore for about three years before going to Chicago, USA in 2011. We lived in Chicago for nearly 2.5 years. Our youngest daughter was born while we were in Chicago. We moved back to Singapore in January 2014 when our twins started Primary 1. In 2016, my husband had a new assignment in Mumbai, India. We’ve been here since and have been living overseas for a total of about 12.5 years.
Favourite aspect about living in Mumbai?
I am a total Bollywood girl! I love watching Bollywood movies and listening to Bollywood music. Watching movies here in the cinema is more affordable than back in Singapore. I have learnt to go to the cinema on my own and I love the experience! Shopping is another plus point! You can get great bargains here and size is not an issue either.
And the worst part?
Well, I think most people know that India can be noisy, polluted and dirty. There are beggars on the streets and shanty towns are almost everywhere when you drive around. Having grown up in clean and green Singapore, I really don’t like the mess and filth so you can imagine how hard it is for me to accept living in such surroundings.
It is instilled in us Singaporeans to keep our country clean and not to litter. I am proud to say that I practise this and so do my children and husband. Why dirty the place you live in? Having said that, Mumbai is not a bad place to live in. Every city has its pros and cons and we cannot write it off based on just a few cons.
Your most recent purchase
… for your children?
Clothes, shoes and skincare products.
How do you think parenting in Mumbai differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
I think Singaporean moms are very much influenced by the education system and ultimately end up being ‘tiger moms’ in one way or other. Being Singaporean, I think I always have that in me. However, I do not push my children beyond their limits. In Singapore, when my twins were in lower primary levels, there were weekly spellings in English and Mandarin as well as quarterly tests and semestral exams.
Today, they go to the American School here in Mumbai. The school has an International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, which is so different from what we are used to. They also have classmates from all over the world. I feel this helps to make them better people – more sensitive, more considerate and perhaps more broad-minded in their outlook.
Because the school structure is different and their exposure to social issues more varied, I manage them differently too. While I am always the ‘tiger mom’ where academic standards are concerned, there are no real tests or exams to worry about here. The children only have to strive to better themselves as they are their own benchmark.
Social issues like drugs, smoking, vaping, dating and sex have surfaced a little earlier than I expected because of the international environment they are in. My husband and I enforce our family values and expectations to maintain discipline and our Asian identity. My girls have listened to us so far. Living in India has also allowed us to explore and revisit our Indian roots with our children.
As Singapore is quite safe and secure, I think most children learn to be independent from a young age, such as going to buy groceries and taking the bus. However, being overseas, safety and security are issues we worry about. Even leaving children in the care of domestic help can be risky. So I have learnt to be vigilant and more on top of things. I never leave my youngest alone for long periods of time. My older girls are now more independent so I do let them go out on their own sometimes but they are still not allowed to take public transport by themselves. I feel all of us take safety for granted, to a certain extent, when we live in Singapore. We don’t realise how good we have it until we live outside of Singapore.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
Prior to having children, I was a paralegal. I worked in law firms in Singapore from 1998 to 2006. I used to assist lawyers to draft documents, take client statements and research on legal subjects. I would attend client meetings and sometimes also accompany lawyers to court hearings. This was a field I went into by chance as I never thought I would have a career in law. I had signed up for this course at the polytechnic and really enjoyed it. After having children, I have not gone back to work.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Mumbai?
Many restaurants here are kid-friendly. They are willing to cater to children’s diets and even have some activities for children. Some of our favourites are Mainland China, The Sassy Spoon and PizzaExpress.
Top five places in or around Mumbai you would recommend to parents travelling with kids and why.
South Mumbai – Many of Mumbai’s landmarks such as Gateway of India and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus are in South Mumbai so you can’t miss it if you want to explore the city properly.
Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link – For a lovely view of the waterfront and the Mumbai skyline, go for a drive on this bridge which links Bandra in Mumbai’s western suburbs to Worli in South Mumbai.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park – A visit to Sanjay Gandhi National Park always promises a good day out. There’s something for everyone from exploring the ancient Kanheri Caves to seeing wildlife and boating on the lake.
Hill stations – There are many gorgeous hill stations outside of Mumbai. Mahabaleshwar and Lonavala are our favourites, about six and four hours by car respectively from Mumbai. It is best to go after the monsoon season to see the lush greenery and waterfalls.
Dharavi – This is considered to be the world’s largest slum and you will need a guide to take you into the area for a visit. You will get a glimpse of how families live in the tiniest of houses. The slum is also home to many businesses including tanneries. I have yet to visit this place and hope to do so before I leave Mumbai.
Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?
I have been lucky to travel mostly on Singapore Airlines, definitely one of the best airlines in the world. Having in-flight entertainment is a big bonus when you have young children. Don’t forget a change of clothes, in case of any accidental spills or mess. Carry with you some of your children’s favourite dry foods and snacks in case they do not want to eat the in-flight meals.
I think the most important thing is to be calm and don’t worry too much. Young children, especially infants, can sense your anxiety and act up more. Ignore all the stares and snide comments you get from other passengers. They either do not know or have forgotten what it’s like to travel with young children. It’s also easier if parents take turns to take care of children on the flight so they can get some rest during the flight. Other than that, breathe…and good luck!
Is there something that you do to keep your children in touch with their Singaporean roots?
We always go back to Singapore during summer break. It’s the best time to connect with family and friends, enjoy local food and just be a tourist in our own country.
When we are away, we try to celebrate festivals and important holidays. Even though we are not Chinese, Chinese New Year is always a part of our Singaporean culture so we try to dress in red on the first day of Chinese New Year and meet friends or family for some sort of reunion lunch or dinner. National Day is a big thing for us too. We all wear red and white clothes and watch the National Day Parade online together, singing the national anthem and songs as well as reciting the pledge!
The Singapore Consulate in Mumbai organises get-togethers for the two holidays above and it’s always lovely to meet other Singaporeans who live in Mumbai. I always say you can take a Singaporean out of Singapore but you cannot take Singapore out of a Singaporean!
Best souvenir one could bring back from Mumbai
– for a child:
A small model of an auto-rickshaw. It is a cute toy and a good representation of Mumbai for young children.
– for a mama friend:
Oh…this is easy. A saree or any other Indian ethnic outfit, a shawl, a scarf or a piece of fabric that can be used to make a dress. Also Indian costume jewellery or bags and wallets with Indian motifs. Lots of things to choose from!
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
I find it hard to make friends. I am not working so I don’t have many opportunities to meet other adults on a regular basis. So, through my children’s school, I try to connect with other moms and build a network of friends. However, because an international school is also a transient place where most families move frequently, it can be hard to nurture friendships. By the time you get to know someone and start to build a friendship, it’s already time for them to move on so that’s a constant struggle for me. After a while, I’ve also stopped trying and am just sticking to the few friends I have. I think we are also at a stage in our lives where we are comfortable to do things or go out without any company. I also feel sometimes that I get tired of making friends and don’t want to go through the whole rigmarole.
On raising multilingual children…
Wow, this one has been tough for me. My children and I only speak to one another in English. My twins started out with Mandarin as a second language. That was a challenge for us because neither my husband nor I speak, read or write it. We learnt Malay in school but we chose Mandarin for the children because we found it more relevant in today’s world. But it has been hard keeping that up here in Mumbai. It has been more than one year now that the children have stopped learning Mandarin. The twins now learn Spanish in school and I hope that continues. My youngest only knows English.
Even though my children understand me when I speak to them in Sindhi, a North Indian dialect that is our mother tongue, they would respond in English. So we are still continuing this struggle. Perhaps one day Spanish will become a common language for our family! In essence, it is not easy to keep up with multilingualism for the children especially when you have moved countries a few times.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your children?
A lot of things! My children always ask for their favourite snacks, cookies and chocolates. I will bring back local groceries, even rice! My children have grown up eating Thai Jasmine rice and they prefer it to Basmati rice, the prevalent rice available here in Mumbai which tastes different. While it might be a healthier option, it is tough to adapt the palate.
Another crazy item, toilet paper!! Yes, toilet paper! It is not common for locals here to use toilet paper on a regular basis, which is why it is more expensive. I only bring it back from Singapore because we have a high baggage allowance when we fly.
Your top makeup tip for a busy mama?
I only use compact powder, lip liner and lipstick. I wear spectacles so I don’t do eye makeup. But if you have time, a little light eye shadow, eye liner, mascara and some blush would also be great.
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
Ooh! I have a few actually. For Indian cuisine, it is definitely basic dhal and rice which is easy on the stomach and quick to cook. It is comfort food for us when we return from a long holiday.
For Singaporean cuisine, I make curry noodles. I use A1 curry paste that I get from Singapore, mix it with water and coconut milk and bring it to a boil. I’ll add tofu, chicken or fishballs and serve with some boiled beansprouts, green vegetables and noodles. It is a quick and easy laksa for us!
What’s the one thing you would miss about Mumbai if you moved away?
Bollywood movies in the cinema as well as non-stop Bollywood music on the radio. Unlimited data from my mobile phone operator! And of course the wonderful restaurants we eat at here. We do not get that luxury in Singapore because it can be expensive.
Thank you for your time, Divya. Click here to read about other Overseas Mamas!