I know there aren’t many people who love summer. I recall my teacher criss-crossing her eye-brows reading my essay on my favourite season. I could understand why she cringed at the thought of summer but I was helpless. Indian summers are hot, harsh and hardly offer any scope for being a romantic season. But somehow I have always loved the season. This, irrespective of the fact that summers have always tagged along red marked report cards, near-rotten birthday cakes and hours of stay-home curfew hours. But there is that one special something about summer that I perhaps can never explain.
Summers usher in a whole lot of memories. A trunk full of them perhaps. I am not sure if the others have felt it, but I’ve always felt a special smell of summer. In the intense, sweaty heat of summer, returning home from school with my back pack I used to get that smell. A sort of raw summer sun, punched with the heady scent of unripe mangoes, punctuated with the whiff of Gulmohar flowers. A bronze sort of smell. Swinging the empty water bottle back and forth, I used to crazily savour the smell. A mild throbbing headache caused by the scorching sun. A group of thirsty crows crowding around the little water-hole near our locality tap. Powder of dry mango flowers flying here and there. A pair of burning feet. And amidst all this, there was this strange summer pleasure.
Those days we used to store water in earthern pitchers during summer. The earthern pitchers came in two varieties- black one with narrow neck and terracotta red with broader necks. The water used to be too cool. There is perhaps no exact word to explain the earthy coolness they offered. Back from school, I would throw around my bag, bottle and shoes and rush to dunk in a glass inside the pitcher.
“Don’t drink cold water as soon as you come from hot place”.
“Don’t you dare dunk your fingers into the pitcher”.
Warnings would just make a touch and go. By then my dirt laced fingers would already be savouring the cool comfort of the pitcher water. Gulping the entire water in one go, I would close my eyes and feel a soft stream of coldness make way through my throat into my stomach.
At times my grandma would make a strange drink of sweet curd(yogurt) and water. Impatient that she was, she would hardly stir the curd enough to blend in smoothly into the water. Rather little blobs of pinkish white sweet curd would refuse to mix evenly, resulting in a strange coagulation. But I used to love that strange drink. Dipping my fingers into the glass, once the liquid had been consumed, I would scoop out the mass of pink precipitate from beneath the glass.
Summer vacations would soon be announced. And it would invariably mean days of unlimited fun with my cousins. Mats would be rolled out under the guava trees and the little plastic and tin ‘kitchen set’ would be neatly arranged. One of us would chop leaves with our mock knife while the other would go to collect ‘fire wood’. Clink, clank, clink, clank! Bits of raw mango would be ‘cooked’ hastily. The ‘men’ had to go to office. A cooker full of ‘pebble’ meat would be made ready in the meanwhile. Not that our little ‘family’ would remain happy forever. Most often than not we would be disturbed by the boys, who would be tired of their ‘marketing duty’. They would want to play marbles. Soon there would be a commotion and the games would end up in lots of tears and ‘don’t-you-dare-talk-to-me-ever’ promises.
By eleven, the sun would be too high for us to continue our game or fight – whichever, and we would be herded back home by our mothers.
Our bathroom had very little spcae, one reason was the existence of a little cement tank inside the bathroom. Those were the days of extreme water scarcity. So it was my mother who took the trouble of lifting water from an underground tank and filling up the tank in the bathroom. There was no tap and that tank was our only source of water. Looking back, I feel guilty of the number of times I had wasted the water of the tank. But summer afternoons were the only time I would be given the licence to take bath in the cold water from the tank. Those days we used to used Margo neem soap. Perhaps the soap actually contained neem extract, for it felt terribly bitter if ever the soap lather entered the mouth. I would spend umpteen minutes inside the bathroom, pouring buckets and buckets of water or dunking the soap inside the tank and lifting it up almost instantly. By then the water would turn hazy white. And I wouldn’t come out till I would hear a loud scream from my grandmother!
Come summer and my grandmother would buy me dozens of chemise. Chemise is supposed be to a straight lined under dress – basically worn under frocks. But my afternoon attires would be white chemise with ducks, flowers or birds embroidered on them. Afternoon being a curfew time, we would not be allowed to venture out. I would lie down next to my grandmother, placing my leg over hers. Most of the time there would be strong power -cuts, ranging for many hours. Grandma would use a hand fan made of palm leaf to fan both of us. Being a story teller that she was, she would weave little stories of her own, while I and my brother would listen to with wide eyed wonder. Sometime down, just at the crucial juncture, her words would sound like incoherent vowels , her hand holding the fan would stop it’s random motion.
‘Grandma, what next?’, I would nudge her, prompting her to wake up with a startle and continue her story. This would continue till no amount of nudging would wake her up and her words would transform into soft snores.
THAT would be my ‘THE MOMENT’. I would carefully slip off her embrace and head upstairs to the terrace. Collecting unripe mangoes, I would tip toe to the kitchen. Armed with a rusted razor blade and a palmful of salt mixed with chilly powder, I would devour one green mango after another – closing my eyes intermittently due to the surge of tanginess.
But if there is one thing that I would sincerely look forward to, was the Norwester. While playing Kit-Kit, Pittu, Colorman in the evenings, my eyes would look into the sky every now and then. Little traces of dark silhouettes would offer me hope. And then they would make their guest appearance. They would begin with soft winds resulting in little ballets of dry leaves and pollens. Then they would gradually transform into a mad frenzy of dried twigs, large droplets of rainfall and ear-splitting thunders.
‘Run, Run, Run’, we would scream in rejoice. Though we our legs would hardly increase pace.
‘Rush in, fast, fast, fast’, the elders would warn.
We would rush in but wouldn’t let the elders close the doors and windows. My mother would put out her hand and collect rain water in the cup of her palm. Then with great care she would apply the water on our skin.
“Summer rains are good for the skin. They cure rashes”, my grandma would laugh.
Pressing our cheeks against the window rails, we would intently watch the scenery outside. A collage of mayhem and ecstasy. Flying sarees from some unknown terrace. Loud rattle of loose tin sheds. A wet dog taking shelter under a Frangipani tree. Noisy boys playing football in the incessant rain. Sound of falling mangoes. And then that special smell – of parched soil just bathed in raindrops. We would breathe in as much as we could, inhaling the maximum of the earthy vapour.
“Aaaah….what a beautiful smell”, we would scream aloud in unison.
The temperature would suddenly drop down to many notches below normal, providing a sigh of relief to all.
By nightfall it would be cold enough for my father to announce his desire for Khichuri – a preparation of rice and lentils cooked together. There would invariably be a power cut that night. Sitting around the shadowy magic of the kerosene lantern we would listen to the sound of wet, croaking frogs and crickets while waiting for the aroma of hot Khichuri and Fried Brinjals to emanate from the kitchen indoors. My grandpa would take out his light shawl and wrap it around himself. The late evening news would blare in monotone from his little radio. Enjoying the light after-rain breeze, my grandma would murmur, “Aah, God Of Breeze, may you soothe our soul”.
Summer would be a quiet damsel that night; weary after a fiery session of love making.
Late in the night, the jasmines would bloom in mirth. There was this special jasmine creeper that my grandma had brought from Bangalore. She had planted it near our window. After every Norwester the Jasmine creeper would break into tiny dots of perfumed whites. It would be the best gift of Summer. Sitting near the window I would watch the creeper bathe in moonlight; at times shadowed by passing tufts of cloud. I would thank God for Summer.
I do not know if it is an irony of fate or not. The same Summer that had once seen my birth, also witnessed my grandma’s death. In one scorching afternoon we were told that she is no more. That evening it rained hard. It rained for many hours. From our window I watched the Gulmohar petals soaking every joy of summer rain. Only there was no grandma to make tiniest of paper boats to put out into the after-rain puddles. There was no one to tell me how rain water cured pimples and summer allergies; no one to brave the rains to go out and tie a falling creeper to it’s support. Till nightfall I kept looking out through the window -just in case I would catch her shadow passing by. But there was no one. The Jasmines bloomed that night – their fiercest best – not a single branch was left untouched by the little white blossoms. As I reached out to touch them, tears ran down my cheeks. I could suddenly feel the presence of my grandma. I could almost hear her voice. “Aah, God Of Breeze, may you soothe our soul”.
Summers have never been the same again but amidst all the office, kids, bills, loans, stomach cramps, noisy network connection that I have, I still wait for little black mossy clouds to huddle together in the scorching summer sky….just in case it rains.