I am starting this blog to be able to write to my heart's content. I dont want to advertise this blog but I would want people to chance on it and give their comments. This is the first of many contradictions that will make up this blog

Location: India

Friday, March 23, 2007

Summer Memories

Taking the baton from Jiby (courtesy Silverline) for the Sunshine tag. I was supposed to come up with 8 things that remind me of summer. But I have come up with only six. It is long. Requires patience. Here goes:

I was in the 4th standard and in Gandhinagar in Gujarath. Gandhinagar was beautiful with roads that smoothly stretched wide and straight, with traffic that did full justice to the roads by being almost non-existent. With trees planted on the sidewalks, with gardens in every residential neighborhood, living in a beautiful 2-storied house allocated by the bank my father worked in, Gandhinagar (supposedly planned and modeled on Chandigarh) was the first city I fell in love with.

I used to walk back from school with my closest friend, Ayaz. Fat and smiling. With a name bigger than him - Ayaz Khan Pathan.

My summer memory is of our walk back from school on the last day of our 4th standard exam with 2 months of summer vacations laid out in front, waiting to be eased into.
‘Thujhe class mein kaun sabse achchi lagti hai?’, Ayaz’s question, out of nowhere.
He didn’t have to be any more specific. I knew he was talking about the girls in our class.
‘Pehle thu bol’, I replied.
‘Nahin pehle thu’.
This was uncomfortable territory at a time when the official line to friends and family was that girls were stupid and not to be bothered with. I still remember one of the lines from then (When girls go east, we boys go west).
We decided that we would count to 3 and call out our picks together. 1……………….2…………………….3


I looked at him, smiling.
He smiled back and we laughed hard, with our backs to the tree trunks. We laughed and rolled over, rolled over and laughed.

Pepnetius was the favourite of all the teachers in class for being the meekest. She rarely talked to the girls and never to the boys. She was plain looking, dark, with plaits. She was quiet and fit into the official party line of the type of girls that were tolerable. She was non-controversial and therefore a safe pick.
Chicanery with your best friend at the age of 9.
Of course, we did the 1-2-3 test again and came out with the names that we really had in mind. But Pepnetius is still my summer memory.

Phantom :
Phantom & Diana & Hero & Devil & Rex & Kit & Heloise….my Ahmedabad (6th & 7th standard) memories.
I could go on and on ( The skull cave, the pygmies…..).
There can be no magazine/comic/children books company that understands the joy that its existence provides to kids.
Indrajal comics (how much cornier can you get with a name?), with their Flash Gordon, Mandrake, Rip Kirby, Garth.
Tinkle, Chandamama, Target, Amar Chitra Katha.
Every children magazine worth its salt seemed to be subscribed to at home. They used to come in with the morning newspaper and I used to tussle with my brother for first reading rights. But when school closed for the summers, my first activity when I came back was to lie in bed, with the fan on in full speed and read all the past issues of Phantom(Mr Walker, The Ghost who walks). The comic with those brilliant ‘Old jungle sayings’.
I would have read them so many times already but it never mattered. I even used to drink milk because the Phantom always drank milk when he went into the bars. Of course everyone ridiculed him for that but he usually beat up a few baddies in the bar and ‘milk’ was suddenly seriously cool.

I can actually experience the same happiness and the anticipation of that happiness as I write this.

Play till you drop:

Cricket has been a constant companion. In Gandhingar, in the ‘sector’ garden that we had in front of our house where you always had to be on the lookout for the ‘mali’ because you were not supposed to destroy the grass by trampling on it.
In Ahmedabad, where the days were so much longer in the summer vacation days that it was still daylight till 7:30 PM. Of course, the end of daylight was no reason to go back home and the cricket included quaint terms like ‘one pitch out’ and ‘current out’.
In Thrissur, where we used to play cricket in the small yard in front of the house. This used to be between the 3 or 4 of us and we had the most bastardized rules in the history of cricket. Since there were 3 or 4, we couldn’t make teams, so we played for points.
2 points for a catch.
3 points for a wicket.
1 point for every 5 runs scored.
Whoever had the maximum number of points at the end of the day was the winner (turning a potential stroll in the park into an arithmetic lesson).
Hitting the roof of the 'thozhuthu' was 6 runs. Hitting it over (without touching any part of the ‘odu’ roof) was out.
Nicking to the wall behind was a caught behind.
Bowling too fast was just not cricket because the pitch length was about half the normal pitch length and if you bowled really fast you had no chance of playing those.
But we played so much that by evening we would all be so irritated with each other that fights would break out about nicks and ethics and there would be ‘knowing’ stares about that innings where ‘you surely nicked but didn’t walk’. And the bowling speed would just cross that thin line dividing the ‘accepted’ from the ‘unethical’.
The game would usually end with one almighty heave of frustration by one of the batsmen making sure that the ball was lost (And thereby denying the ultimate winner the real pleasure of having won fair and square).
And of course, all those ‘poochattys’ so lovingly tended to by my cousin sister which would be broken and the scoldings separately for each one of them.

Marbles, cricket, football, hockey, badminton, table tennis; we played all these according to what was in vogue that summer, the only constant being that you spent yourself completely playing and you went home as a shocking sight to amma.

Summer flavours:

Sights and smells and snacks and drinks that define summer to the senses.
The ice golas in Law Garden, with those tiny ice crystals packed together on a thin stick flavoured with sugary sweet syrups with exotic names like kala khatta
The sheradi ka ras (sugar cane juice) that you got at the other end of ATIRA which was always the sweet end point of the frequent family evening walks
The Vadilal ice cream of Ahmedabad which was Ahmedabad’s own and could not be compared to anything anywhere else(I heard that they tried a franchise model for expansion and it was never the same again; different tastes in different places, the nightmare of franchising)
The chana chor garam in conical newspaper sheets with salt and chilli and coriander leaves and a dash of lemon outside school in Ahmedabad
The ‘nannari’ sherbet (with soda) at ‘Balakrishna Cool bar’ in Palakkad
The naranga soda (from the goli bottles, with extra salt) outside school in Thrissur, which tasted like heaven after a game of football
The pana nongu, with the fleshy, juicy interior brought in baskets every summer.

The king of fruits:

Mangoes. There had to be a separate section for them. When we stayed outside, acha used to buy at least a couple of crates of ‘aapus’ mangoes every summer. The crates would be filled with straw with the mangoes in varying shades of ripeness arranged to make sure that they could breathe.
Jackfruit was the preferred summer fruit for my family but I could not look beyond mangoes. The ease with which a knife cut through the fruit revealing the reddish yellow fruit was a summer joy.
And all those exotic varieties of mangoes every time I visited Kerala; the kilichundans, the priyoors, the neelans. At home now, we have a wide variety of mangoes including the Alphonso. All I regret is not being home enough in Palakkad in the summers to gorge on the mango, the greatest summer delicacy.

Summer visits home:

Acha used to get plane tickets for the family every other year. That was the time when flying meant Indian Airlines. My brother loved to be on those flights and I would be in the seat next to amma, nauseous and retching, waiting for next year when we would take the blissful 48 hour train ride home.

You always said that you were going to visit your ‘gaon’ to your friends, schoolmates and teachers but you could never make them understand that this ‘gaon’ was nothing like the villages that they imagined; of poverty, no electricity, no running water and reeking with exploitation.
This was the most beautiful place in the world with so many relatives; aunts and uncles; cousins for whom we were in some way, minor celebrities. Summer vacations was about travel between acha’s and amma’s houses with frequent stops at aunts’ and uncles’ places. It was hearing the stories of Malayalam movies from your elder cousin sisters and understanding that there was a rivalry for affections between Mohanlal and Mammooty. Even then, the girls would be on Mammooty’s side and the boys on Mohanlal’s. Without understanding any of it, I would side with Mohanlal (Shades of brilliance at that age???).

It was about hearing the stories of ‘Mayavi’ and ‘Kapish’ and all the poombatta and balarama stories from my cousins because I could not read Malayalam then. It was always about that most-often heard phrase ‘How you have grown’. It never failed to amaze me how they expected me to be of the same size every year.

It was also about one particular scene that played out every time exactly the same way at amma’s house. Ammoomma would be sitting on the cement ledge outside the kitchen, cutting vegetables and another elderly relative would be sitting next to her, helping. I would come out of the kitchen and see them. They would look at me and smile. There would be a conversation. It happened every time I went for my summer vacations: the same scene re-enacted. And I had that very interesting feeling of ‘I Have seen all this before, exactly like this’. To a degree where I could actually predict what would happen next if I tried hard enough. Unexplained but very interesting. Just another beautiful summer memory.

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