Spectator by Seema Goswami: Summertime…
I can’t be the only one who felt that spring lasted for precisely one week this year. We barely had time to take in the beauty of its blossoming flowers, its cool breezes and its mellow sunshine, before the summer was upon us, with all its blazing intensity.
Well, never mind. Nature will do what it does, and lesser mortals like us just have to make our peace with its capriciousness. And more to the point, make the most of a season that is heralded by a whole lot of heat and dust.
Thankfully, though, that’s not all there is to the Indian summer. The heat may be crippling but it does have its compensations. For one thing, this is the season of mellow fruitfulness (with due apologies to Keats) in the sub-continent. The season kicks off with juicy watermelons and melons, which are just the ticket for sweaty afternoons, spent in darkened rooms. Even before you have had your fill of them, the first mangoes start arriving in the market, filling the air with their heady aroma.
My childhood memories of summer inevitably involve mangoes. In our home, they were quickly unpacked, washed and dunked into a pail of icy water to cool. We then spent an interminable hour, waiting for them to be ‘ready’ to eat – or, more accurately, suck. We would squeeze the mango all around to free the pulp, then make a small incision on the top, and begin aspirating the sweet mess into our mouths. Bliss.
That said, the fruit I most associate with summer is not mangoes, but litchis. Mangoes are well and good, and I enjoy them immensely, but in my mind, they are merely a holding operation until litchis arrive, in all their exquisite loveliness. There is something so beautiful about the litchi, all plump and voluptuous, encased in a bright red, prickly cover which you must unpeel with the greatest care so that you don’t puncture the skin quivering with juice underneath. There is nothing to beat the sensation of popping a perfectly peeled litchi in your mouth and feeling that explosion of flavour fill your senses.
What nature takes away with one hand in this season, it gives back with the other. So, what we lose out in spring flowers, we gain by way of flowering Laburnums (or Amaltas, to give them their Indian name). This is the time of year when the streets and parks come alive with the bright, yellow blooms of these trees, which brighten the horizon everywhere we look. I am particularly lucky to live on a street that has a profusion of these trees, and their beauty is enough to make me actually look forward to the heat of summer.
This is also the season when we can finally take some time off and go on vacation. This year may be a bit tricky, what with Covid still around us and cases showing a steady uptick. But you can always book a Covid test, and assuming you and your family are negative, pack up your car and drive to the hills for a break. Or head to the nearest beach, if that’s your thing.
If the thought of travel in the times of Corona leaves you cold, never mind. Just hunker down at home, draw the curtains, make yourself a cold glass of Rooh Afza or Khus sherbet, and settle down with a good book. Summer reading is the best kind, even if you can’t do it by the edge of a pool this year. There is just something about languorous, sultry afternoons and evenings that lend themselves to some serious – and not so serious – reading.
As for myself, I will be perched over my kitchen sink, making a glorious mess of eating my daily mango. I will be sipping on a cool litchi drink (until the real thing arrives) as I plough my way through my summer reading list (more on that next time). I will be wandering down my street, taking in the beauty of the laburnums while I can. And I will be dreaming of a hill holiday, where I can escape the heat of the plains for a glorious few days.
The views expressed by the columnist are personal
From HT Brunch, April 18, 2021
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