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.