Navigating Shrima Rai’s Thoughtfully Designed Cocoon Of Convenience Around Her Bandra Home
A stranger to Instagram until two years ago, 37-year-old Shrima Rai has renounced a lucrative career in banking and made a successful foray into the glittering realm of the now-ubiquitous digital influencer. But where other bloggers tow an entourage of make-up professionals, photographers and fashion stylists to every event, Rai prefers the boisterous company of her sons, Vihaan (8) and Shivansh (3), who are permanent fixtures at her shoots. The former Mrs. India also dabbles in writing in her free time and has a refreshing approach to blogging about fashion, beauty and fitness; she personally tests each product before giving it her stamp of approval, and her #OOTD posts are meticulously curated to create an Instagram feed that is both practical and aspirational. In the midst of it all, her sons are her pillars of strength, and Rai believes that being a mother is more rewarding when you don’t mollycoddle your kids but choose to bring them up as accountable individuals instead. And, case in point, though they are already worn out from a frenzied day of studies and extra-curricular activities, Vihaan and Shivansh do cooperate and display a certain level of maturity when Sadaf Shaikh meets them after school hours on a scorching May afternoon. The former, a chatty extrovert, prattles on about his day, as he so often does on the Instagram account, @theraiboys, that his mother has created to capture her children’s antics. Shivansh, on the other hand, is unusually reticent, and allows his brother to steal the limelight while he smiles coyly every now and then from the safety of Rai’s arms. She is consciously raising her sons, each with varying temperaments like their home city of Mumbai — a place that still charms her 15 years after she moved here when she married film producer Aditya Rai, who happens to be the brother of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. She invites us to explore the cocoon of convenience that she has created for herself and the boys, which allows them to remain within a 10-minute radius of their Bandra ecosystem, as they navigate food stores, hair salons, coffee shops and outdoor parks in the area….
2 P.M. Godrej Nature’s Basket
A 5-minute drive from their home in Bandra, Godrej Nature’s Basket on Hill Road is Rai’s preferred choice of convenience store, and she finds herself amongst its grocery-laden aisles every other day. She reveals that Vihaan and Shivansh eagerly accompany her on these trips because she leaves them in charge of the cart, and they know exactly where all of their favourite foods are stocked. An added incentive for them is the free tidbits that are doled out by assistants who are eager to promote new items. Rai laments that the boys always succumb to these marketing tactics, convincing her to buy bagsful of food. She has managed to make peace with it, as she also uses these trips to teach the boys how to recognise vegetables, the varieties of fish and even different types of succulents, so it ends up being a win-win for all those involved.
3 P.M. Starfish Kids Salon
Three-year-old Shivansh is due for a haircut, and our next stop, about 7 minutes away from Godrej Nature’s Basket, is Starfish Kids Salon. It specialises in creating a stress-free environment for haircuts, an experience that most kids find especially gruelling. Rai mentions that she brings hers to the salon for their monthly grooming sessions because the staff is trained to handle sensitive children and restrict any outbursts to the bare minimum. Vihaan and Shivansh exchange cheeky smiles as they get a brief respite from their mother’s no-screen rule and catch up on some television at the salon. All is calm for a bit while the kids’ eyes are glued to the cartoons. After he is finished, Shivansh is presented with a cookie for all his troubles (and good behaviour).
3.30 P.M. Coffee By Di Bella
The trio visibly perk up when we walk next door to Coffee By Di Bella, where Rai can finally get her fix of coffee, and Vihaan and Shivansh are free to gorge on waffles. Her reason for selecting this particular coffee shop is two-fold — it’s a stone’s throw away from her apartment, so she can easily conduct business meetings here, and a gift-card, courtesy of a close friend, allows her to get a free cup of coffee every day. The kids shoot me irritable looks while their mother is talking to me, and Rai chastises them. She’s in the process of informing me that the shoot has coincided with their nap time, when the waffles arrive. All traces of sleep vanish from Vihaan and Shivansh’s eyes as they get down to business, practically inhaling their first chocolate-filled bites. Their little bodies infused with the kind of vigour that can only come from consuming too much sugar too fast, the boys all but drag their mother out the door, eager to move on.
4 P.M. Pali Hill Market
Rai’s car now hurtles through the famous alleyways of Bandra for about 10 minutes before coming to a stop at Pali Vegetable Market. I’m curious as to why this location features on the blogger’s list, since I assume that she has already wrapped up her quota of grocery shopping for the day at Godrej Nature’s Basket. “I have a secret avocado guy here”, she tells me conspiratorially as she speaks with the vendor in hushed tones before her face takes on an expression of dismay. “He sold his entire stash today”, she says, but there is little time for lamenting as Vihaan and Shivansh, still hopped up on sugar, begin playfully chucking vegetables at each other. A withering look from their mother is enough to dissuade them from any further shenanigans, but Rai melts immediately when the cherubic Shivansh asks if he can make a selection of carrots for dinner. Rai’s smile is almost beatific, and she basks in pleasure at her son’s choice of food item. Clearly, she’s taught him well.
5 P.M. Outdoor gym at Bandra Reclamation
Rai and the boys head home for a quick change of clothes, and when we reconvene an hour later at the outdoor gym in Bandra Reclamation, a 10-minute drive from the Rais’ apartment, they are clad in comfortable outfits that are appropriate for physical activity. Rai, a fitness enthusiast, tells me that she often brings the kids to the open gym, which has a wide range of training equipment that includes jungle gyms, easy-to-operate lat pulldowns and non-mechanical ellipticals that can be accessed by the general public free of cost. “This is the kind of infrastructure that a developing city needs and now that it’s finally being built, I believe we should be grateful to those responsible for making it available. The best way to do that is simply by using it”, she explains. Meanwhile, the kids, who have tried their hand at all there is to do here, are finally beginning to tire. But, even in the final hours of this long day, their contrasting dispositions are still evident: Vihaan runs up and down the stairs in a bid to expend every last ounce of his energy before he retires to bed, whereas Shivansh is perched atop the monkey bars gazing serenely at the setting sun.
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