We had no camps, apps or even TV, but we had the best summers, says Poonam Saxena - Hindustan Times

We had no camps, apps or even TV, but we had the best summers, says Poonam Saxena

Apr 06, 2024 05:19 PM IST

Train journeys with home-made aloo-poori, afternoons spent lounging with cousins and comic books. Saxena takes a fond look back, in this week’s The Way We Were.

I ran into a friend the other day, who told me about all the plans she had made for her 11-year-old son’s summer vacation. It sounded like a whirl of activity, from special art classes and theatre camps to environmental projects and goodness knows what else.

‘I’ll never forget the chaos of refilling our surahi or earthen pot with drinking water at a midway station. I also won’t forget the spicy chana at Tundla Junction.’ (Shutterstock) PREMIUM
‘I’ll never forget the chaos of refilling our surahi or earthen pot with drinking water at a midway station. I also won’t forget the spicy chana at Tundla Junction.’ (Shutterstock)

I don’t know if I was deprived or lucky, because I did none of this when I was in school. What I remember are long, languid days spent in the company of cousins and friends.

Most of my summers were spent at my nani or maternal grandmother’s house in Kanpur. We only ever travelled by train, and our luggage always included a surahi or earthen pot for cool drinking water (which was replenished at stations where the train stopped, often with great drama and just seconds to spare). The surahi was a brave choice, given its fragile nature, but somehow it never broke. There was always packed home food for meals, usually delicious sukha aloo and pooris or parathas. But the real joy was buying local treats at railway stations, like the spicy chana at Tundla Junction, sold in plates made of leaves.

As the train chugged into Panki, a suburb of Kanpur, we knew we were almost there. A race would ensue – who among the passengers would be the first to line their luggage up near the exit, so as to get off the instant the train stopped? I regret that we were habitual laggards in the lining-up-luggage sweepstakes.

Once we were at my nani’s rambling bungalow, with its garden, aangan (courtyard) and a large tract of empty land behind, we didn’t do much except laze with various cousins in the high-ceilinged rooms, playing cards and reading, or go to Arya Nagar or Moti Jheel in the evenings for chaat and ice-cream. Sometimes, in a highly anticipated outing, we would all go to watch a Hindi film at the Heer Palace cinema hall. These were the best summers.

If, for some reason, we didn’t go to Kanpur, we would stay in our Delhi home, which wasn’t bad either, because there were lots of friends to play games and go cycling with, in our spacious housing colony. At night, we sometimes slept in the garden (which was dominated by a peach blossom tree) and I remember how surprised I was to feel cold in the early mornings, when everything, from the grass to our cots, was covered in dew.

We’d play energetic, highly active outdoor games such as langdi taang and pitthu, with many squabbles and quarrels as to who was “out” and whether the “den” had cheated. Later, sweating and panting, we drank glasses of Rooh Afza and orange squash.

The highlight of summers at home was the “variety show” we put on for a hapless audience of sundry children and long-suffering, indulgent adults. An old sari hung on a string served as the curtain, dragged to and fro between performances of skits, music and dance.

We did so much reading in summer. It was often the best way to spend the afternoons, which were so blazing hot that we were forbidden from venturing outdoors (though we did still sneak out sometimes). I devoured books by Enid Blyton and Carolyn Keene. We lent each other books all the time; someone always had a new Famous Five everyone was dying to read.

I remember making my way through piles of comics too: Little Dot, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Spooky, Sad Sack, Richie Rich, Archie.

All this assumed a guilty flavour as the vacation drew to an end. Because naturally, no one had done a spot of the holiday homework. Assignments were pulled out at the last minute and I remember working feverishly to finish at least some if not all of them. I don’t know why we worried so much. The teachers took a lenient view of incomplete holiday homework and scoldings were mild and half-hearted. (I now realise they were mellowed and recovering from their break too.)

We had no television (barring Doordarshan, which we watched of course, but never at the cost of our precious outdoor games or books), no computers, no mobile phones, no elaborate camps. But I think we had fun.

(To reach Poonam Saxena with feedback, email poonamsaxena3555@gmail.com)

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