Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Slice Of My Childhood Summer

Summer in my childhood. Think of it and you see a kaleidoscope of memories. Two months of carefree holidays when you were not really compelled to do anything. A welcome break from school routine, it was a time when the boundaries between morning, afternoon, evening and night melted into a soft interval of nothingness. Oh,what a happy and colourful nothingness it was...filled with fun, recreation, your favourite books and food. Of course, there was an occasional film to watch and a mandatory visit to your maternal grandparents' place.

But most of the holidays were spent at home in Indore and you looked forward to sleeping on the terrace.The mattresses and sheets that were cool and comfortable at night under a starlit sky, turned dusty and warm as soon as early rays of the rising sun touched them. Sleeping any longer was no option, unless you went indoors and slept under the monotonous drone of a ceiling fan, that is, if you had one. In most houses, the ceiling fan adorned only the living room. You could make up for the lack of sleep by dozing off in the afternoon. The long, languorous afternoons were ideal for a siesta. If you slept on the terrace at night, you needed these midday naps, for your nighttime sleep was often punctuated by the buzzing of a rare mosquito, noisy wedding bands playing late into the night, sounds from a transistor radio coming from your neighbour's terrace, howling of stray dogs or an unexpected rain shower. And then koels' shrill calls pierced the stillness of the skies at daybreak.

Summertime was busy time for the elders. Wheat for the whole year had to be bought and stored safely. One of the rooms at home would be converted into a makeshift granary where quintals of wheat was cleaned before storing it away. A woman was employed especially for this purpose. She would descend with several of her daughters to free the wheat from any impurities like small pebbles and other things. This went on for three or four days. Then the wheat would be filled in sun-dried drums, treated with herbal pesticides and kept in the storeroom.

Raw mangoes appeared in the market which were duly brought home, made into pickles and stored in ceramic jars. The harder and sourer the mangoes, the better suited they were for making pickles. Some were boiled and their extract taken out to make panna, the refreshing, energy-giving drink. Some others were grated or cut into pieces to make murabba, a sweet and sour jam that went well with rotis. All of these were exchanged with the neighbours. The recipe for making these varies in each family, and as a result they taste different.

Then there were papads, stuffed chillies and kurdais to be made and dried in the sun. Kurdais are jalebi-like spirals made from fermented wheat. The process requires hard work, skill and expertise. All this sun-dried stuff is fried and served with a meal to make it spicy..

And then there was sugarcane juice. Temporary sheds were made in each neighbourhood where freshly squeezed sugarcane juice was served with additives like ginger and lemon. A visit to these sheds made for a nice evening outing. Not only was the juice refreshing on a hot summer day, but it was also affordable. Some of the sheds sported private enclosures called family rooms, separate from the common area. Both were furnished with cheap metal or plastic tables and chairs or benches.  One could order a big glass or a small glass. The big glass was often represented by a crude drawing of Amitabh Bachchan on the walls of the shed, while Jaya Bachchan stood there for the small glass. This imagery appeared year after year.

We had fun swinging on the swing in our veranda, playing the simple board game that has been permanently carved on the cement floor at home, eating mangoes, playing in the park behind our house, and reading and listening to stories. A trip to Burhanpur--my maternal grandparents' place--and the prospect of meeting cousins there was a highlight of the holidays. More on Burhanpur in a later post!

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