No, not that kind of Indian summer. I’m talking about summer in India. Okay, so it is still February and not actually called summer in India but it is 90 degrees in Mumbai and definitely feels like summer. So there.
Strange as it feels to bask in this heat having only just left New York in the throes of winter ( which apparently is currently simulating spring), I’m instantly transported to the summers of my early childhood. The scene here is actually nothing like those memories – hot and dusty, it already looks parched and eager for the monsoon rains. The trees and shrubs while appearing to be robust impart an air of exhaustion from the layer of dust choking the leaves. As though newly arrived from great journeys, they hang like weary travelers in need of food, drink and a long shower.
The air is drier than usual. Mumbai being an island in the Arabian Sea, is prone to the humidity characteristic of all coastal regions. I’m not missing the humidity however. The dry heat is much more tolerable. At the markets, ‘winter’ fruits are still found. Grapes and citrus mostly. Guavas are just beginning to emerge on the fruit sellers carts. I see lots of tomatoes which feels kind of odd as I’ve grown accustomed to them flavoring my summers back home but, certainly not unusual for these climes to have tomatoes all year round. It is simply a bit confusing for my jet-lagged mind.
But reverting to my childhood summers, I feel a sense of nostalgia. No doubt the years since have cast a romantic hue on those memories. I might even be mixing up the plants. Still, I remember the hot reds and oranges of the canna flowers punching the white hot days. The bright sunlight sent us kids to seek the shade of porches and trees. Too hot for physical play, we resorted to old-fashioned games with stones and shells that tested our hand-motor skills and did not require much exertion. The sounds of cicadas and other insects provided a back drop of discordant music that was well suited to our own rather unchecked vocals. The birds only bothered to sing in the early morning.
I remember lobbing stones to knock down still green mangoes from their tall trees. Some of those trees did not belong to any of us children but, that never hampered our ambitions. The tart-sweet flesh sprinkled with salt and red chili powder made a most heavenly snack. Ditto for the tamarind fruit. Come to think of it, these were remarkably natural, healthy foods that somehow fooled us into thinking we were indulging in something terribly naughty. Of course, too much of even these resulted in tummy aches and maternal scoldings.
What I recall most intensely were the aromas of the season. During the day, the high temperatures dissipated any smells. But come dusk as the heat abated, the perfume of frangipani competed mightily with the evening jasmine. The roses had a fragrance so strong that I was prone to coveting them. So much so that I’d actually eat the petals as though wanting to contain their power within my body. Gardenias were not as common but whenever they were present, even a single flower in bloom would perfume the air for miles around. There was no getting away from scents those evenings. Almost everything had a smell but the ones that chose to be subtle got overlooked.
It has been many moons since those summers of my youth but memories are strong. It takes only a wave of Mumbai heat to trigger them. And for a spell, I’m transported to my time in the gardens that gave me my life long love for nature. A gift every child should be so blessed to receive.
Note: As I don’t have images of those memorable gardens of my past, I’m offering up some of my watercolor renditions of warm weather flowers. Enjoy! May they evoke your own set of memories and dreams.
And do go see the exhibit I’m in at the ASL this week.
(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar