Monday, April 16, 2012

Summertime Blues

Come April (okay, March, who're we kidding?) and everyone around here begins to crib about the heat and the humidity and the electricity bills. Pretty much everyone mutters about 'global warming' in rather ominous tones and declares that this has got to be Bombay's hottest summer so far. Then, there are the discussions about how to 'beat the heat'. There's the air-conditioner of course, but what about the rest of us, who actually have to venture out on the streets and travel in trains and buses and work in places which do not have central air-conditioning? I suppose, we make do with several glasses of lemonade with ice-cubes that an enterprising mavshi provides for a small(ish) fee, the cheerily spiced cucumber slices bought from the railway stall on Parel station, the blueberry muffins eaten in the cool Tata cafe with its transplanted tropical palm trees on the first floor lounge, the watermelon and orange fruit dish outside Sarvodaya and then there are the lunch-time trips to the Amul ice-cream parlour, there's the sugarcane juicewallah down the road and I know that times are desperate when even my most misophobic friend demands a tall glass of juice with crushed ice, all notions of questionable hygiene aside.

But seriously, was it really always this hot in Bombay? My parents swear not. Dad has memories of walking from Sion hospital to Cafe Britannia and ordering endless bottles of sweet sticky strawberry soda with ice and sheltering in the comforting shade of the then numerous Irani cafes and small restaurants.

I suppose it has something to do with the increasing concretisation of the city coupled with the exponentially increasing motor vehicles, if not the gruesome reality of the aforementioned 'global warming' that contributes to the near-unbearable heat, not to mention the humidity that comes with living in a tropical city on the sea-coast.

It's just that I don't remember people becoming so harassed by the heat before. A school friend is taking up a job in Shimla for the summer so she can escape the everyday heatwaves and I suppose if this worked for the British, it ought to work for her.

Then, there's an NRI cousin who is bragging about returning to the 'clement climes of California' next week. Also, there are folks who take summer vacations to hill-stations by the thousands.

I just don't get why the summer is being considered harsh enough to warrant an exodus from the city. For me, the summers have an immediate association with school-vacations and wandering aimlessly around the city. Taking long walks at Marine Drive till 6:30 because the sun sets so late. Lounging around on the terrace in the late afternoon heat and doing nothing but vegetating; making intermittent trips to the kitchen to grab a pitcher of Rasna or Glucon-D in the days before Tang arrived on Indian shores.

Pestering Mummy to let us buy Coca-Cola from the neighbourhood grocer's shop and driving down at night to Chowpatty and buying ice-golas and kulfi faloodas from the innumerable stalls on the beach. Waiting for the crates of alphonso mangoes to arrive from Goa and then whooping with joy when we could smell them and press their fresh warm pulp in their beautiful yellow-orange skins to our sweaty cheeks. Aah, the summer and the mangoes! I could write an ode to them right now. The summer-time vacations in Goa with family, eating jackfruit from the orchard with its intensely sweet smell sticking to our fingers for hours. Running about on the beach and splashing about in the sea. And if not Goa, then the frequent trips to the Odeon swimming pool, filled to bursting point with other swimmers looking to soak in the lukewarm chlorinated waters of the big pool.

Then there came the growing up and going to junior college, when there were the afternoons spent walking around Flora Fountain, sifting through the pages of old, beautiful-smelling books. Oh man, the books! I have so many memories of wandering up to Kitaab Khana and just inhaling the summer afternoon air scented with old paper smells and if not buying, then just sitting down and reading books right there with a glass of thandai from the sweetmeat vendor right opposite.

That's how I first read The Great Gatsby and Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island.

Not for us, the stale air-conditioned air and sterile shelves of Crossword. We yearned for the unbridled joy of chancing upon a masterpiece in the stacks and stacks of books piled upon the pavements in the days before the cops came around and started up their infernal book-burning. The shock of watching books burn in a place so far apart from Hitler's Germany was coupled with Dada leaving for New York and then, college took over. The days of cruising for books on summer afternoons and skipping to Nehru Science Centre to catch up on the new Hall of Aerospace exhibits ended.

The air-conditioner arrived at home and malls sprouted up like mushrooms in every corner of the city. Salvation from the summer sweats was here.

Now all we do is sit at home in front of a machine while it sends out CFCs to soak through the ozone, inadvertently making the summer sunshine more dangerous for everyone on earth, while we make plans to visit this mall or that multiplex as we order mango ice-cream on the phone.

After all, now that the heat has become a diabolical thing to 'beat' and flee from, the summer has become a season to dread. Well, that's only until the monsoons arrive. Then we can all go back to collectively worrying about the floods and praying for an early winter.


Destination Infinity said...

You should come to Chennai,then. There is something called as 'Kathiri veyil' which roughly translates to 'Scissor HEAT' and it generally falls between May 5 to May 25 (around). I recommend that you come here during that time.

I assure you that all the joys of summertime will be forgotten within a week, max :P

Destination Infinity

PS: Jokes apart, a well written article that appealed to even a person from Chennai! :)

Tangled up in blue... said...

Destination Infinity, first off, welcome to my blog! :) And you know, in my mother-tongue Konkani, there is a similar term, kaatar garmen, which also means a cutting heat! That is such a linguistic coincidence man! :D Must be a subcontinental thing. ;)

And I know that heat makes one lazy to the point of incapacitation. It's just that one can do fun things in the summers too, or rather one used to, that I was trying to emphasise here.

Thank you for visiting and for the lovely comment! :)

Insignificant said...

Lately, I've been wondering why people are so immensely perturbed by weather conditions. It's either too hot, or too humid, or raining too much. What you wrote was a refreshing and welcome change! For me, any season in Bombay is such an integral part of the city that I like it by default. And I don't recall ever being as frustrated by the weather as people are nowadays.

R said...

I'm coming to Cal in exactly six days and this post has gotten me even more excited. Everything that you described encapsulates what I love about summer, albeit in a different geographical location.
And, and coming from Canada, summer is the one season EVERYONE looks forward to. The first day that the weather hits 15 degrees C people are out in shorts. We're so desperate for hot weather here, we'll take what we can get.
That aside, this is my favourite thing that you've ever written.

Isha said...

I think everyone in Bombay can relate to quite a few things you just said. I'm no exception. Especially the mangoes, the books at Fort and Kitaab Khaana of course. :)

Aayushi Mehta said...

"Doing nothing but vegetating" Hahah.

This post brings back the magic in summers, which is probably the most hated season in India. But everything you've said is so true. Summer has always been about holidays, and lending libraries, and ....yeah that's it...only libraries for me :D All I did was go to the library neat my house in the morning, get a book for the day, read it, then exchange books with my cousin, read that, sleep, repeat the next day. And so we systematically devoured every book in every library in our area.

Sigh. Those were the days.

And really, the police literally burn the books at Fort? I have never seen that, and I don't think I would be able to watch it either.

Your post makes me want to enjoy the summer this year. Thank you for the memory trip.

Tangled up in blue... said...

Insignificant, I know, right? I just don't get why people feel so put upon by the weather when there's a hundred other things to worry about in the city actually. And thank you, I just felt it really necessary to point out that the summers used to be a time to look forward to, atleast when we were still children.

Riddhi, oh man, really? Which means your exams are really close to ending! And if we could transport the entire city to a way-up north latitude for a couple of days, we could actually show people that this heat is really not all that bad! I mean, rehydrating is all you really need to do all day. :D And yaaaaay, you're coming to Cal for the summer! How awesome is that man! :) And thank you, thank you! :)

Tangled up in blue... said...

Isha, yes indeed. It's one of my favourite places in the city man! :)

Aayushi, they did it only once. And it was a mere symbolic gesture for them I am sure. But I was there that day, and I felt awful. Haven't you noticed how drastically the numbers of the pavement booksellers have fallen in the last six years? I hear the ones that remain are the ones who can curry some favour with the police. Weird, isn't it? People need to be bribed so they'll let others sell books cheaply.

Oh yeah, I had joined a lending library, too, when I was a kid! It was the old British Council Library at Mittal Chambers, that huge space filled with books and books and books, all for the taking! It looked so big and endless to me back then. Before they ran into financial difficulties and had to move to a smaller place and make it an online library. Aaah, why is the past always a better place?

S. Susan Deborah said...

Reading this post, I went back in time when summers meant holidays. Well, I wonder if it is really the heat or the growing-up syndrome. Even today, I see children happily playing in the sun without any restrain and it's only the parents who keep yelling, "Don't go out in the sun. Come inside." I never remember my mother calling me indoors.
The other day I was also thinking along the same lines - I had no qualms about sweating some years ago but now I detest sweating and to escape sweating, I don't go out when it's sunny . . . the circle goes on. I guess one gets cranky as one grows older and sometimes the sun/heat/sweat has to bear the brunt.
How well you capture the unsaid thoughts of the mind. That's what I love about your writing - you can write about anything without much ado.
Glad to have stopped by, Karishma.

Joy always,

P. S: I forgot about the books . . . Summers meant Nancy Drew, The Famous Five. How I used to devour the books and bug the old librarian for more. In fact, I completed reading half of the book in the library itself.

Tangled up in blue... said...

Susan, come to think of it, you're probably right. It's grown-ups who make all the fuss and hard though this might be to admit, I think we fall in the category containing grown-ups now. I suppose we have lost that ability to enjoy the little things and we've become too acclimatised to comfort. And thank you for your lovely comment, Susan. I can never forget The Famous Five books saved up for summer vacations. Frederick Algernon Trotteville was my first love. :)

Arumugam said...

I may have said this already,but I just love the way you write!And the topics you come up with are so unpredictable yet so relatable that I practically lived a childhood summer while reading this:)
I am not going to repeat Aayushi's comment.I did just the same thing:)

Bangalore's getting hotter too compared to earlier years.I cannot survive summers in most parts of India.I start getting uncomfortable beyond 38 C,my melting point:-)

mgeek said...

Hey, when I saw you at marine Drive the other day, I was actually a bit afraid to call you. My brain was calculating the possibility of Karishma battling through the boiling local trains to come from suburbs in this summer. I decided it was not you, just some look-alike. Only when you crossed past me, I did realise it was you.
I agree with you. Summer should be enjoyed, like any other season, even if our Indian version runs twenty degrees hotter than that of Shakespeare. I had a good day... pastries at Gaylord, Monsoon Malabar coffee at Mocha, idling at Marine Drive while trying to identify constellations, a movie at good old Metro, and supper at darkly lit moody Woodside Inn. I always feel summer is longer so that we can live it more.

I went to Kitab Khana after recommendation from a friend. Loved the experience. I wish it stays open forever - the last haven for us book lovers now that landmark is gone.

P.S. I'm yet to explore Irani restaurants even after eight years in Mumbai. :)

Tangled up in blue... said...

Arumugam! Thank you for your comment man! I really look forward to them. :) And I agree, I do not like the heat either but I never let that get in my way. ;)

mgeek, haha! Well, in my defense I have absolute tunnel vision and I was especially distracted that evening. My friend from Kolhapur was coming to Marine Drive but she didn't know the way so I had to go to Churchgate to pick her up. And wow, you guys seem to have had a real great time man! :) I wish I could have stayed and talked with you three for a little while longer. And yes, if something happens to Kitaab Khana, I'll have to flee the city myself. And the only Irani restaurant I have been to is Cafe Britannia, don't know any other good ones unfortunately.

Kunal said...

Summer vacations...oh..those one odd month of complete bliss and the race to complete the school tasks as soon as possible so that the rest of the holidays can be enjoyed to the brim. Those programs on the DD which was the only channel we had then at our much to write about...

Though I will agree that summers may be getting hotter every year..and even the cycle pattern of the seasons is changing a bit...but since we can't do much to change the climate...we better find reasons to enjoy every thing we get...I have never been to I can't exactly say that I know how much heat and humidity you are talking about...but I guess hot is hot and on that respect Delhi would be quite high in the scale...(this reminds me of the 'Its pronounced Thermometer' joke in Seinfeld..remember? :P) I was lucky to not face the full blast of the Heat for two years on account of not being in Delhi...but this time there is no running around...But I am definitely planning a trip to the mountains...because they are so lovely at this time of the year... :D

And I am feel that this comment is very long...

Sculptor said...

Summer's always been synonymous with school/college vacations..
Heading out the evening exams got done to buy a new bike.
Going from waking up early for exams to waking up early for bike rides with friends, long walks, and just trying to maximize time together!
There's no greater pleasure than sweating away while having 'Mewad' icecream at Gateway.
You've captured the essence of summer, my favorite season! For that, one mango from me to you

Kshipra said...

Even in my memory summer was never hot, or as that. Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, everywhere there is too much heat. and all we do is curse global warming , sitting in a air conditioned cube, oblivious to the causes.

Lovely post!

Astha said...

I love summer for tiny shorts, watermelons and MANGOES and the monsoon that follows! Yay!!

Sneha... said...

well...umm.. summer exactly haven't been my favourite, but I guess that didn't stop me from having a great time even in the heat...
I spent my college years in Delhi, complaining to parents in Jamshedpur about the killing heat, while all the time,enjoying the change to skirts n hot pants... drinking glasses of banta from the roadside stalls... not to forget the Rs. 5 amul ice candies, chuskies....!!!

interesting read btw :)