Do you remember when summer was like eternity? School would release us into the season, and we would greet it exuberantly, knowing that it would not end. The last day of final exams, already scorching, already lazy, could not come soon enough, and for those who had an afternoon exam, life’s cruel ways were unfathomable. The rest would go home, eat lunch, change into their home clothes and read or sleep or meet friends. When we were older, there were sometimes last day of school movies too. We would hurriedly seek our pleasures although an unending season of unlimited idleness was ours.
The last day of school was the first day of bringing home a huge stack of story-books to be devoured like Alphonso mangoes. The most demanding thing we did was to consume the mango while reading the book without dripping its heavenly juice on the pages. Growing older, one developed a taste for the Alphonso’s tender skin, and learned to suck at the seed so as not to let a single drop go waste. Yes, the other great exertion of the season was pulling out those little mango fibres that would get caught between my teeth.
The stone cold mosaic floor, the racing ceiling fan, the resilience of childhood and stories set in cold damp England, snowy Massachusetts or some less exacting clime made us oblivious to the heat and humidity.
Summer mornings. When the day would pat us awake at 5:30, nudge us awake at 6:30 and bathe us in sweat by 7. We were teenagers and we did not care. We would dress for the day and set out on completely pointless expeditions to Fort or Crawford Market or Colaba Causeway. Unwilling to waste the veyyil (sun’s glare) for a minute, as we say in Tamil, we would gallivant hither and yon. Return after a long time (usually about two hours) and then sit under the fan with water. And after all that activity, the day still stretched before us.
I was not at all athletic. But to those who were, afternoons were a time to go down and play. The more fierce the sun, the more heated the competition between buildings, between gangs, between friends. Ah, what energy we had! In the evenings, others of us would walk. Take a turn, as the Victorian novelists were apt to put it. We would discuss life’s important issues. And come home with time to spare for television, dinner and another of those books.
Summer was also a season of visiting family. Sometimes the summer would be broken up into before travel, the trip and after travel. One needed to travel always with enough inland letter cards to write faithfully to one’s friends. After all, a separation of two weeks was really long and might place a tremendous strain on the friendship. Travels, whether one’s own or another’s, was for most of us family-related. The twenty-four samskaras scheduled when convenient to coincide with everyone’s summer holidays, notwithstanding the severities of the season.
Games, fights, rehearsals, plays, meeting each other’s friends, sharing each other’s lives for a few moments… but with the feeling of forever. Every love, every hate, every resentment, every passion… forever.
And so the summer wore on. Sunny, hot April, fresh with the joy of new holidays. Long, muggy May, season of travels, season of returns, water-short season, season of waiting,… waiting for rain. And then, June and rain. Writing and love. Again and again and again. April into May into those first blessed showers, and the promise of new uniforms, new rainshoes, new raincoats, new books, yards of brown paper cover, new textbooks, new universes to explore… this year, every year, everything will be different.
And now here we are, my dear, all grown up and grey. I write this in a land without Alphonso mangoes. Life is all summer in its ordeals by fire and all winter in the lonely walk through each of them. In your eyes, in the promise of you, I catch a glimpse of eternity and it passes, much like the summer does now, chopped into portions, deadline by deadline. I cannot bear the heat, and it does not warm my heart. The days wear me down as they whip past me, and I wait, wait, wait for the monsoon that will not come to me. There will be no rain, no wind, no song, no verse, no love, no release—not in my heart.
And so I sit here, hot and tired, and ask you, “My dear, do you remember…?”
August 7, 2001