Soap suds, runaways, chillingly lukewarm water from the tank in the tree-shaded courtyard, the raucous harmony of crows blending with the plaintive calls of the koel.
Summer is here, and so are childhood (mis)adventures.
If you delve into ancient history, you will find that summer wasn’t an unending series of summer camps and coaching classes, a race- even as school let out to allow some breathing space- to keep ahead of your mother’s neighbour’s son- that is how you view these impersonal, perfect, robotic beings, who can dance and swim with clockwork-like precision and always score more marks than you do in every examination.
Close your eyes. Summer is back. These faux winter mornings blaze white with the sun inching up the sky more rapidly than it did a few weeks ago; come afternoon, the sun burns on your neck and reminds you of the buds on the mango trees, ready to come to fruition and titillate you with their ripe golden prize. Your grandmother lies in the cool, dark hall, curtains drawn, and you lie beside her, feeling the comfort of her cotton saree against your skin, the freshness of her delicately-scented talcum powder on her wrinkled neck. The curtains are drawn close to keep the searing heat of the sun out; not a breath of wind stirs outside, and the leaves droop on the branches, lifeless and dry. Mothers and sons are embroiled in their tussle as old as time itself- stay home, says the woman, while her child plays truant and seeks entertainment in the dry drains and withered sticks by the roadside. You will have a sunstroke, she calls out- the boy, heedless, watches in fascination a dead bird being picked apart by a cat. What does he know about a sunstroke, and why would he care?
The potato chips and the appalams have been laid out on the terrace on large swathes of cotton cloth. The middle-aged and the elderly are all gathered around for a gossip, and when the power goes off, they will sit in the moonlight and talk of distant cousins, the dead and the absent. They lean over gates and praise their grandchildren to the skies- there is no baby prettier and smarter than that child of the son in the States. Filter coffee flows in rivers in the kitchen as the men make themselves comfortable on the floor, to talk business, politics and the state of affairs. Oil sizzles in pans and snacks are made aplenty. The grandchildren are coming over tomorrow, you see, calls out a grey-haired matron to her neighbour across the fence.
Outings, movies, visits galore. The daily supply of orange and white flowers twined together with green leaves, bought after endless bargaining with the vendor who cycles up promptly at five in the evening. The tinkle of bells in the pooja room, the special treat of bricks of ice cream after dinner. Hide-and-seek in the rambling old house, drives in the evening with all the cousins squeezed anyhow into one small car or a jeep. The youngest cousin of whom you are jealous because he receives special attention. The cousin who tries to run away because he thinks people don’t care enough. The anguish of being the ‘middle child’, belonging with neither the grown-up cousins nor the babies. Precious innocence and the total abandonment of academic worries.
You must be deluded if you think summers are still the same.