Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Stolen Summers

Courtesy - http://saundersallotment.co.uk/
Spring is here, and soon summer will blaze in. Mommies are already talking about summer camps. Swimming, martial arts, painting, gardening, baking...children today are so accomplished that sometimes I am intimidated by their intelligence and skills. Even so, it is sad to see that adulthood crumples up all these talents into the smallest ball possible, and stuffs it into the most unreachable corner of the mind. So much so, many of us can never retrieve our long lost interests for as long as we live.

But I don’t have that problem. You see, I tried to recollect my summer vacations. And I can’t remember a single accomplishment that resulted from talent-nurturing-during-summer-hols. So no regrets there, I continue to do nothing! But then, I reflect incredulously – whatever did I do during the summer holidays? It was a time when there was no telephone, no internet, no T.V., no FM, no summer camps – it appears like a frame out of Flintstones. To top it all, I grew up in bustling Bangalore – so I don’t even have some magical memories of spending hot summer afternoons in a rural setting where I could climb jackfruit trees and swim in a well.

This is not at all good, don’t you think so? I mean 17 years of institutional education, 17 summer breaks, 17 winter breaks, 17 Dussera breaks – and I can’t think of a single thing I’ve done? No, no...I must dig deeper.

Let me go back to primary school. Damn! First thing I remember is summer vacation ‘homework’. English and Kannada copywriting books – to improve the hand-writing.Then, I remember being taken to Cubbon park, and the complete, untainted, unadulterated happiness of sitting in the toy-train. I remember eating cotton candies and sticking out my tongue and squinting at it to see if it had turned pink.

Hold on – I remember a very funny incident though. We were a group of kids of comparable age in our vatara. Many evenings went by in inventing games, or just exchanging stories. And for some reason, one fine evening, we got it into our heads that we should do ‘thapas’ so that God can appear in front of us. One friend was very convincing – she rattled out the names of all the Rishis who had done ‘thapas’ because of which God had appeared and smothered the beseecher with boons and goodies. A quick consensus emerged – Shiva was the easiest to ‘appear’ apparently. Gullible God. Soon enough all of us were trying to stand on one leg yelling ‘Om Namah Shivayah’. Now, the friend who orchestrated this entire episode decided to ‘quit’ and go home. She had better things to do other than meeting up with Shiva – like having dinner for example. But I was more focussed. I told her to inform my parents that I am in the middle of my thapas, and they should not wait for me for dinner. Of course, the real reason was I knew the dinner menu – radish sambhar – who on earth will eat that? Best to give it a miss.

All the while, I had visions of Shiva appearing before me and granting me boons. I had not thought of what boons I should ask for. Blue eyes were somewhere on the agenda though. I did not have a concept of money then – so it never occurred to me to ask for money and associated luxuries. More than anything, my heart swelled thinking of my parents – oh how proud they would be! I could imagine them telling my aunts and uncles – ‘Shiva met S directly’ and so on.

Meanwhile, my friend stopped by at my place to inform my parents of my inability to partake dinner that evening. The conversation apparently went on like this –

Amma – ‘Where is S?’

Friend – ‘She is upstairs near Susheela aunty’s house. But she won’t come for dinner, she is doing thapas.’

Amma – ‘She is doing what?’

Friend – ‘Yes aunty. Already five hours she did thapassu– I think Shiva will come sometime tonight.’ (In reality, I think half an hour had elapsed).

Next thing I know, Amma is upstairs. She tells me Shiva is waiting in the verandah at our home. I go leaping and bounding. No Shiva. Then Amma says I should finish my dinner, and Shiva will talk to me when everyone is asleep. So I reluctantly wash down the radish sambhar.

All that standing on one leg and hopping and yelling had tired me out – so I was out like a light. The next day I saw the mirror – no blue eyes. Damn. I must have just missed Shiva.

Middle school saw a more structured summer routine. I was always a late-riser – 9:00 AM was my earliest. I usually awoke to threats from Amma and evil laughter from my sister who would have finished her breakfast by then. Appa would have brought at least ten to fifteen different books and comics from a local library run by a guy who looked like Indra Gandhi. The whole day would go in munching kodubale or chakli and reading books.

I think it was in middle-school that I learnt to ride a cycle. The rent was one rupee fifty paisa per hour for a ‘ladies’ cycle. I remember mastering a particularly steep slope near Malleswaram 4th cross. The corner house of 4th cross belonged to the local milkman. He had a cow-shed next to his home, and he delivered milk to that area. One evening, he sat milking a cow called ‘Malli’ for his evening round. He had an unexpected guest – me. You see I had mastered the slope while ascending it – but the descent was terrifying. The brake on the rented cycle was as loose as a used hairclip – and I went flying into the cowshed like an unidentified object. No damage was done – the front tyre may have grazed the milkman’s butt while I sat in a helpless heap in front of Malli – who looked at me with stoic disdain – did not even Moo in disapproval. Of course the milkman was very upset; and I think Amma bought an extra litre of milk from him that day. That evening I retired from cycle circus to do five pages of hand-writing exercises and a 50-word spelling ‘dictation’.

That’s about it – my summer misadventures. I don’t remember what I did in high-school and college. There were millions of books though. And the usual cinema outings with friends. Crushes and infatuations. Before I knew it, cubicles and computers had robbed away any further summers.

When I look around me, all I see is a sea of frowning faces hunched over mobile phones. I am reminded of a flock of sheep – heads to the ground, grazing, grazing, grazing. I think of those summers where I was expected to do nothing; and indeed where I did nothing – and I smile at the way this nothingness has shaped me. I love my own company, as much as I love being with friends; I am at ease with silence and solitude, as much as I love a boisterous party; I can be everything, and yet, I can be nothing. There is a remarkable pleasure in being so unchained – of not having to constantly prove oneself to be useful and productive. I smile and close my eyes to Louis Armstrong’s gruff insistence that ‘We have all the time in the world...’

© Sumana Khan - 2012


  1. This is such a heartwarming write-up. Loved it. Don't remember the last time I laughed so much while reading something. :)
    And Thapas? Really? ROFL!
    By the way, you might have just prompted me to write a similar post. Will do that sometime soon. :)

  2. You just made my drab existence a wee bit better with this post. I can't explain how, you just did. Thank you.

  3. The Thapas of yours was super hilarious! :D

    I remember an English lesson we did, by J.B. Priestly. It was called, "On doing nothing" The best lesson ever!
    Summer holidays usually found me with my nose buried in books, I mean story books/novels/comics :)

  4. @PeeVee...errrm glad to be of assistance.

  5. @Shail...yeah, books, books, books...

  6. Nice, hilarious post. I seem to remember most of my vacations were more or less the same.

  7. Loved the post...i recollected my summer vacations...i think we had a far better time than kids of today who are busy attending summer camps and upgrading skills.

  8. Sumana, I get such dirty looks from other moms when I tell them that I want my kids to learn how to 'do nothing' in their holidays. No screens(TV, computer, gameboy, wii, etc), no camps, no organized activities, nothing. Just want them to make up their own games, and have warm memories of hot summers!

  9. @Anitha - true!

    @Annu - you are a wonderful mom!

  10. @T.F - hard to believe you had lazy summers! I am sure you had some crazy adventures!

  11. Thanks for this opportunity to recall with nostalgia, my own childhood summertime memories.
    I grew up in Mumbai, and summers were spent vacationing at my Grandad's house in Paalakkad District in Kerala.
    Enjoying eating ripe mangoes and jackfruit, throwing stones at raw mangoes hanging from trees, playing barefoot in the mud, drinking water straight from the well, with no filtering or boiling, the daily bath in the village stream, the bullock cart or Jhatk rides, etc are still fresh in my mind.

  12. GVjee..how wonderful! I think most urban children don't have such opportunities today.

  13. Reading this post really made my day :)

    1. Thank you Sridevi! Welcome to Kaapizone :)