A crate of something cool

It’s really fascinating how memory works – how something reminds you of an incident that dates back to a decade or more, how a seemingly random event can trigger an avalanche of memories from long ago.

Take for instance what happened yesterday. We had been to an Indian store in Dublin, a store called Ingredients. In the fridge there, I involuntarily started scouting for something. I really didn’t want to buy a fizzy drink, but I was looking for a bottle of Thumbs Up or Limca. I don’t know why.

Thumbs Up and Limca, if you grew up in India during the 70s were the ‘cold drinks’ that were very popular. I often long for that taste because it seems like a vital link to my childhood.

And really, it shouldn’t be that way. For aerated drinks were forbidden at my place. We never stocked any kinds of aerated drinks or soft drinks either. Instead, there was always a glass of limbu paani (homemade lemonade) waiting for me as I came back from school in the afternoon.

And that is why, I loved going to Rama aunty’s place. She was my mother’s friend and her husband owned a ‘day and night’ pharmacy in the old city. Among other luxuries, they always had a crate of aerated drinks under her bed. It was an assorted crate; if I remember it right it had a mix of Thumbs Up, Limca, Gold Spot and Maaza.

Whenever we went over, she would always offer us a cold drink. Out of the sight of my father, I knew I could accept the drink. I almost always opted for Gold Spot (it was orange in colour and more sugary and sweet in taste than Thumbs Up). Or at least that’s how I remember it.

While my mother and aunty chatted, I would sip on the Gold Spot and aunty would hand me some Archie comics. That was the other luxury. Archie was considered too westernised and not a good influence (according to my parents), so it was never bought or borrowed at my place. I must admit that the kind of bikinis that Betty and Veronica shopped for and wore, I only saw real women wearing anything close to those on a beach in England some two decades or so later. However, the same can be said for daffodils as well. It was one thing to read, discuss and ‘study’ Wordsworth’s Daffodils while majoring in English literature and another to actually see them in person, blooming in their natural landscape and sold at Tesco for 99p years later.

The third luxury at Rama aunty’s place was the air-conditioner. They had it in one of the bedrooms, and she would switch it on and let me read the comics there. We didn’t obviously have an air-conditioner at my place. When it got unbearably hot in the summers and it was always summer, my grandmother and mother would pour a bucket of cold water in the tiled living room and switch on the fan. The tiles would dry out but retain the coolness of the water; and we would all lie down together on the floor, with a thin chatai under us, the ceiling fan in its endless merry-go-around motion and sleep lulling us away from the hot sun outside and the prickly heat on our napes and backs.

Several years later when we moved to our own place, I requested an air conditioner. We had it in one room, and the first night it was switched on, my mother got up after twenty minutes, pulled on a second sheet around herself and said loudly ‘The AC is making the room very cold!’ But wasn’t it supposed to do exactly that? I didn’t quite know what my mother expected it to do but after living more than half of her life without an air conditioner, she had gotten used to the fan and its half hearted attempts to ward off the heat.

The first night the air conditioner was switched on at our place, it lasted for about thirty minutes, because ten minutes after my mother proclaimed that it was making the room very cold, she then asked for it to be switched off.

Where do your memories take you?

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