Memory of Memories 2- The True Indian Summer

Only two long hours in intense heat and dust of summer afternoon, with strong hot dry wind, (loo as if is referred to in India), devoured not just the body but the soul too. It simply sucked life out of me. Mostly confined to the stabilized city life of 20 degrees Celsius in air-conditioned homes, offices and even public transport, the metropolitan dwellers are devoid of the true experience of summer that sweeps northern India and some other regions in the months of April to July. With coming up of malls and supermarkets, even those visits to local bazaars, bathed in sweat and grime , laden with cloth bags overflowing with groceries etc have become rare for us.

Indian summer is not romantic, short, and full of blooming flowers and mild sunshine like the English Summer nor is it anyway near to the descriptions we read in the western stories. It is a furnace that engulfs all that comes within the range of its gaping mouth, an extreme season with heat rising from the asphalt and sweltering hot winds screaming through  towns and villages like a lunatic. In big cities however the summer almost loses all its nuances of sun and shade, thirst and cooling sherbets, sweat and breeze. There are those for whom summer is cold dark air-conditioned places and others for whom it is dusty heatwaves, sweat, prickly heat and a doomed existence under the merciless sky with sun spitting fire.

In northern India summer is a season of trees. I have spent endless summers in north and everything revolves around shades of trees for a common man and the other creatures that are destined to atone for their sins under the surveillance of a cruel barren sky.

Sitting in cool comfort of my 20 degrees Celsius room and sipping a chilled beer I was suddenly filled with a longing for those summer afternoons that stretched languorously, endlessly. When life moved at slow leisurely pace, when long power cuts made us yearn for comforts, when preparations to combat the hellish summer was a meticulously planned task, when something new was invented everyday to pass those still, listless days and nights, when adults were too wary of controlling the children and afternoons were spent under makeshift huts of upside down chairs and cool white sheets, when we read and sang and played indigenous games, climbed trees, plucked fruits or simply lazed on a straw mat (chatayi) or  under the tree shade, mainly  flaming Gulmohar, Neem, Tamrind, or Molseri, like a buffalo immersed  in pond thankful that it doesn’t have to swish its tail to shoo away flies.

Even blinking an eyelid took effort so we just lay there, very still… sometimes carelessly nibbling on a twig of grass and trying to decipher the cacophony of  crows, mynas, barbets, parrots and other birds hidden in the thickly covered branches. We even had the house sparrows then.

As the day progressed the shops pulled the shutters down, streets wore an empty look, people dozed under huge  trees in parks and roundabouts. Schools had holidays and parents had one more trouble on their mind – how to keep the restless kids engaged but we found our own ways and even conjured up mischief , knowing none of the adults would lift a finger , leave alone come chasing us.

We have lost peace and joy to comfort and stress in these modern times. There was ample time to just do NOTHING and it did not matter at all. As the fragrant mango blossoms began to turn into small green fruits, we knew it was time to gear up for yet another summer. Earthen pots (ghada and surahi) were bought with utmost care to keep drinking water cold. We even had small earthen pots called kasoras for making curds and chilling kheer and phirni (Indian sweets made from rice and milk).

Khas mats were rolled out and a systematic arrangement was made for them to keep drenched with water. The sweet fragrance still intoxicates me as I think of the cool breeze that used to filter through them to fill the curtained room.

In the evenings water was sprinkled on terrace and garden which steamed angrily but eventually cooled down under our bare feet. Wooden woven charpoys would be neatly arranged in verandas or terrace as most people slept outdoors on summer nights. A big table fan would sometimes add some music to the stillness or we would lazily sway a hand pankhi (fan) made of cloth or straw, even old newspapers served as fans .

The nights were deeper, darker and full of zillion stars. It was a fairy tale that came alive outside the mosquito nets.  We would lie down wearing the minimum clothes needed and listen to the night sounds.

The fabric used in summer was usually handspun khadi, thin handloom or mulmul ( voile). I remember cursing the men and boys for having one advantage over us girls – they shed everything except their lowers and let the breeze flirt with them. It seemed unacceptable and cruel. We also wrapped wet gamcha ( thin cotton towel) on our heads and half of face when we stepped out in heat.

Summer food included everything that acted as a coolant. Fresh green coriander, mint, raw mango, coconut Chutneys, fresh salads of kakdi and cucumber, fresh chilled sherbets made from khus, lemon, phalsa, bel ( stone apple) were kept ready at all times. Even thandai, rooh afza, aam panna, Kokam sharbat, nariyal pani (coconut water) were great favourites.

At our home there was a tradition to offer petha or peda (Indian sweets) with cold water to anyone who came from outside. It protected against the excessive heat. Various raitas ( condiments made from yogurt) were included and dahi bhat (curd rice) seasoned with curry leaves was a must every day. Curd, in various forms was included in every meal.

Most of the meals ended with mangoes. Dashehree, langda, chausa, neelam, safeda… the variety was endless. Even the little chusee aam ( to be sucked) came in abundance. Fruits also included jamun (java plum), phalsa, watermelon, musk melon, loquat (Japanese Plum) , plums, apricots, peaches and pineapples. Mango eating was a ritual in itself. Mangoes were soaked in cool water in big tubs or buckets. None ate one or two of them. They were eaten with passion and abundance with juice dripping from between the fingers. we had to drink a bowlful of kachchi lassi or mix of water and cold milk to calm the heat after eating mangoes. Green raw mangoes were used for chutneys, pickles and aam panna (drink).

Burf ka gola (balls of crushed ice dripping with colorful sherbets) , faluda kulfi were a healthy substitute for ice cream which was a luxury at that time. We even had chilled phirni, custard, jelly, fruit smoothies etc as everyone had sweet tooth.

Roasted / boiled corn cobs with masala and lime or butter and spicy tamarind chutney (Sonth)were the delicacies we enjoyed in the evenings.

A staple thing for us kids was roasted wheat flour mixed with boora cheeni (kind of powdered sugar considered to be cooling) and namakpare or mathri. Sattu made of powdered barley, horse gram and other pulses was another coolant which we had to drink with salt or sugar. I began to enjoy it much later though. Sattu is made with seven  cereals, millets and pulses.

There was a certain pleasure in sweating it out to prepare these delicious things, serve and relish them with family. A pleasure mostly lost these days, with everything delivered and available at one call’s distance.

Being born in a family which has confluence of two cultures, added to the summer delight.

The only thing that I resented as a kid was to travel in DTC buses to public libraries and cultural centres. Reluctantly I would walk out of house at snail’s pace all covered to protect myself and believed that time was a conspirator who deliberately moved slower than ever but at later stages as a teenager I began to enjoy those outings. Sometimes we also went to India gate lawns and to see circus or visit old city, monuments, parks and museums etc.

I itch to go back to those days, and to the true Indian summer which is now only a memory. I am glad that I made my kids experience at least some of it by taking them to village and other places I had visited and introducing them to many of the summer rituals that not just brought joy and helped pass the endless days but also brought the family together.

Lines from a favorite song come drifting to me …..

Dil dhoodhta hai phir wohi , fursat ke raat din ….


Last Fling Before The Ring – Lakshadweep Calling

It is unsettling to say the least when you watch recording of Oscars in the night and, next morning, bravely venture to get a free skin analysis done in a salon and then like an idiot decide to shed clothes to observe yourself in the full length mirror. Trust me it is not easy if you are in mid forties, mother of two and have neglected yourself since long. I could hear Oscar Wilde’s ghost whisper in my ear, “Twenty years of romance makes a woman look like a ruin; but twenty years of marriage make her something like a public building”.

I didn’t look That bad but my skin certainly did.  I stood staring blankly at my once clear glowing face marred with sun spots, lines and sun tan. Signs of early aging were slowly becoming visible.  My skin surely needed a lot of detoxification and damage repair.  Getting into swimwear each day made me conscious of what I needed to do but the question was HOW?

With splitting heart my eyes scanned the disaster that was looking at me from the mirror and I cursed myself for so sadly neglecting myself and wondered if I could ever get a nice healthy, toned body with a clear, glowing flawless complexion again. All the healthy food I was eating wasn’t helping much it seemed.

The shrill sound of the doorbell shook me out of my reverie and throwing some clothes on I rushed to the door.

“Mom, I have a surprise for you” my younger one beamed with joy.

“Yeah sure, I just woke up from a nightmare so it better be good” I muttered as I kissed him on the forehead. Realizing how pigmy like I looked in front of this handsome six footer.

“Oh come on mom, chillax . You will love this.”

He handed me a bright invite

My knees gave way as I sank into the sofa. My reflection sprang out of the mirror and began to roll on the floor laughing.

“What? I can’t go to this beach bash  looking like this and it’s going be such a harsh sun out there. Not the right season. What is she thinking? “

I imagined myself all browned like a roasted chicken with a face which could scare the daylights out of anyone.

“I am not going and that’s final”, the words sounded feeble as the thought of verdant landscape, deep blue lagoons, white beaches and fun-filled laughter of my best friends in bikinis and sarongs filled my mind.”

It was too tempting.

I pinged her on Skype.

“Hey gorgeous, did you get my invite? We will stun the sun on those enchanting beaches and have a wild, happy time there so start packing. There is so much to do there, including water sports. Am so excited and I won’t take a No for an answer, ok?”  She looked radiant and she was just a few years younger. How the hell she manages that, I thought. What could one say to a girl so full of life and whose name meant “like sun”. She could brighten up any life any time. That’s what made her special.

“Hey, I just got the invite. It’s beautiful. Bachelorette party, you wild thing, only you could get this crazy idea, Mind blowing’. We laughed.

“What’s life without some fun, baby. I knew you will love it.

“True, but don’t you think It will be too hot and sunny, Kyra. I am not sure I am fit enough to face the harsh sun and push my body to that limit. I won’t feel comfortable in beach wear and my skin will be more damaged than ever.” Reality suddenly dug its claws in me.

“Arrggh, what world are you living in babes? Step out of your cocoon. It is high time. Begin to love and pamper yourself.  It’s never too late. All the adventure sports, relaxed time with friends will do you good and to some extent tone your body too. It would be just like old times. You are coming. That’s it.” She smiled warmly.

“Alright, alright, but look at me, what about my skin, I already have a complex about how I look these days.

“Oh, have no fear when Kyra  is here” she winked.  “Hold on” she vanished from the screen and appeared in a second.

“I have a magic potion for you. I knew you will make excuses as always. Check these out” She displayed a range of LAKME sun expert products on the bed. “These are my constant companion when I travel and you know I do travel a lot. Look at my skin. The sun can’t harm the skin however harsh it may be. It is sweat and water-resistant so you can use it while swimming too. Isn’t that great? Trust me. Wear Lakme sun screen and you don’t need anything else…. sad that there are no nude beaches” , we both giggled as the young man next to me sighed. You can join their page on FB also I love Lakme 

“How cool is that”. I said happily and watched as she explained the goodness of Lakme Sun Expert range of products. I lapped it up all and my heart suddenly took a flight when she said these products not just protect from deep skin sun damage but also heal, repair and correct past sun damage, dark spots and pigmentation. Water resistant, now that was a life saver.

This was sheer magic and a relief. I made a mental note to pick up everything my skin needed, forgot the morning trauma and said, “I am game, let’s have a kickass all girls getaway. “Am so happy for you Kyra and hey, thanks for thinking of me”. She blew me a virtual kiss.

“Oh come on Tiku, you are my best friend. I couldn’t have this bachelorette bash without you. Now cheer up. Remember your favourite Bruno Mars song

“there’s not a thing that I would change

Cause you’re amazing, just the way you are”

I laughed and blew her a kiss. “You bet”

My son threw his arms around me and said to Kyra, “Hey sunshine, wish men were allowed too. Hawt chics and no men, not fair but am glad you convinced mom. Love ya”

“I told you I will, handsome.” She winked.

“Umm so it was a planned conspiracy, huh? I ruffled my boy’s hair.

“Yes, coz your boys think you deserve it as much as I do. We know you always wanted to go to Lakshadweep and love beaches”

I was filled with love for these beautiful people in my life.

“Yes, few things in life are as enjoyable as frolicking carelessly on the beach with you girls. The waterfront, sea breezes, my best girlfriends, icy cocktails served up with paper straws, adventure sports, late night grill and grub.” I said dreamily.

“Yes, Yes, You just pack your essentials and hey, you still look amazing so shed all inhibitions and bring yourself out of the closet along with those sexy outfits of yours.” She winked.

I laughed. “Of course we will freak out. I am ready to challenge the sun. The allure of the deep blue lagoons is simply too much to resist.  Imagine the enchanting expanse of emerald isles, unpolluted, warm unruffled water, and miles of sun drenched spectacular creamy sand beaches, swaying palms, dazzling underwater marine life, deep mysterious coral reefs. It is going to be a breathtaking adventure Kyra… Gosh I can’t wait now.”

“Yeah, I want it to be the best days of my life with you guys. Imagine all six of us together again. It’s been so long. There will be so much to do, scuba diving, snorkelling, Windsurfing, parasailing, water skiing, deep-sea fishing. I have kept the last day for the un-inhabited island of Bangaram.  We will just quietly laze on the beach and soak in the bewitching beauty around. Having fun with the gang again will be a bonus”. Her enticing smile filled the screen and my heart.”

She knew I hated the sun and didn’t feel comfortable leaving the confines of home.  We always knew what was in other’s heart. Distance and time hadn’t changed anything. My body could do with some exercise and toning and this vacation would not just provide that but get me loads of sunshine vitamin without any harm.

“You will have an awesome bachelorette getaway  Kyra. I will see to that.” I promised myself to make every moment special for my best friend and made a note to call the rest of the gang and plan a special beach surprise for her, lavish lunch, her favourite game of volleyball, dance, music, delicious local food and cocktails as a cherry on top. I thought of all the nature walks and sightseeing tours I could arrange for her, knowing she was fond of knowing about different cultures and places. Visit marine museum and take our binoculars to do bird watching. The sun-kissed days will have a lot to offer.  Excursions in glass bottom and sail boats, fishing trips that will take us into the brilliant sunsets.  We will pamper her and ourselves to some exotic luxurious spa treatment too. The nights of course will reveal its secrets when the time comes. Memories of the night outs we six used to have, came flooding to me.

Promising to meet soon I got off skype‘s virtual world and took out my notepad to plan the surprises for her. I had lots to do, things to buy beginning with my magic Lakme sun expert. Nothing was going to stop this wanderlust now especially not the merciless sun.

This post is especially written for  Indiblogger’s 

The Lakmé Diva Blogger Contest

Pic courtesy Google, Photoshop edited by me.