A tale of two summers – of years in India and Europe

You can see a Gothic castle in the background, a lake (the waters filled with green algae), and massive green meadows on which I am sitting, My back is to the camera. I am wearing a strappy polka dot blue and white dress. And a rucksack is on my back.
This month, we had a beautiful summer day, perhaps one of the last soldiers standing as summer gracefully retreats – we spent it at Johnstown Castle, County Wexford, letting the sun warm our backs, and watching it glide over the lakes.

I remember someone saying to me – this year we are going to have an Indian summer. I think it was at work, about two years ago. We were in the United Kingdom then.

And while I knew what exactly she meant, in my mind, an Indian summer was quite something else. Growing up in India, for me it meant wearing cotton or mul frocks as a child, the dark brown of my nape dusted in Nycil powder. Hair in two tight plaits, every strand oiled and kept in place to keep the hair off the face and the neck.

It meant prickly heat running unhindered against my back and nape, and sometimes on the front of my hands as well.

It meant bath water infused with bitter neem tree leaves, and sometimes with the flowers of the flame of the forest tree – both antidotes to tame the wild prickly heat.

Summer meant mangoes and musk melon, beautiful green limes bursting with tanginess, homemade limbu pani or lemonade as those characters in English novels called it. The purple fleshed jamuns, that made our tongues bluish-purple when consumed, a cherished treat in the summer, both for humans and the abundant monkeys all around our house.

Summer meant the terrace being taken over for pickle and papad making, of waiting for dusk to fall, of afternoons of unbearable heat made kinder by attar infused water splashed all around the house, by the curtains who fought a war against the sun, and the hour long comforting siesta as the afternoon roared and raged outside.

Sleeping together, one chatai spread across another, father, mother, grandmother and I. The ceiling fan above in a kind of a Dervish dance.

The one sole air conditioner for the entire house arriving many many years later. Summer through childhood and adulthood, going through many hues. But it was always scorching, more so one year after another, the earth like molten lava, the sun always raging and screaming. 45 degrees Celsius – was what an Indian summer was for me.

Summer in Europe meant going out of the house, on those rare, lucky days, without a cardigan, a coat, stockings or mittens, and with open toed shoes and sandals.

Of pedicured feet, the nail polish proudly showing off from flip flops and sandals, gleaming like a newly married bride.

Of being able to wear thin strapped dresses and shorts, of summer dresses and countless sales at the high street.

Of picnics and barbecues, and trips to the beach , of long queues on the M25, of longer ques at the parking, of the aroma of roasted corn on the cob, beef and chicken patties, of hot dogs being worked upon on little barbecue stoves.

Of the feel of warm sand and water at the beaches, the crowds at Bournemouth, the deck chairs flashing their colours, of women in bikinis, children building sandcastles, or jumping off in the stream at Burton on Water.

Of frantic plans put in place for a summer weekend – shall we do the beach or the lavender fields, or perhaps a barbecue in the garden? Quick, let’s do it all before the brief, lovely day passes and like the embers of a dying fire, we have barely 18 degrees and it’s dipping!

Of wandering at country estates and gardens, of flowers of every kind in bloom.

Summer in Europe also meant a Facebook wall being filled with ‘We are in Malta’ or ‘Spain is lovely’ or ‘Greece – you are such a beauty.’ Of photographs of cobbled streets and maddeningly blue beaches, of sunsets the colour of a rainbow, of vineyards and country roads.

Sometimes both summers merge in my life – the Indian and the European – and I know that I am in a dream. I am a schoolgirl again, flinging off my rucksack and making a go for limbu pani served in a stainless steel glass as the sweat and the prickly heat sing a duet against my back, and then at once, I am a woman, all grown up and wandering about in a lavender field, posing but not pouting, for that mandatory ‘summer is here’ pic.

These are my memories. Of two distinct types of summers. Have you, like me, grown up experiencing different kinds of summers?

One thought on “A tale of two summers – of years in India and Europe

  1. Growing up in Zambia summer meant flimsy cotton dresses and swims to cool down before bedtime; eating mangoes in the bath because the juices ran everywhere and lethargic days reading. In New Zealand summer means light evenings until late (Africa gets dark early evening regardless of season); lush gardens; gorging on strawberries and tucking my outer layers away (but keeping them close at hand because the climate is unpredictable).

    Liked by 1 person

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