You know how we would keep learning in Social Studies that there are four seasons? Once you grow up, you realize all that is bull. In India, there are essentially two seasons – summer and winter (and it rains for a bit in the middle). Spring, autumn, fall – they are all fantastical themes that occur in fairy tales and Mills and Boons stories, they don’t happen to us Indians.
Winter is always coming. And after it’s gone, I am reduced to a shivering, cracking desolate soul with chapped feet and smelly sweaters. Winters make us all dress in similar colours – grey and black, and it makes the world in general a dull place. But summers, are a different deal altogether.
Every person who grew up in India first used the word ‘summer’ with ‘vacations’ in school. Summer vacations were the two months in India that gave you time off from the hustle-bustle of life, and it’s no wonder that for people who grew up in the 90s, summers have been intrinsically related to a few intangible memories.
1. Prickly heat powders.
The first few days of the summer vacations were the most exciting. You woke up early, only to realize there was no need to, and then went back to sleep. Once the initial excitement was over, it was time for afternoons spent playing cricket or WWE. And with that came prickly heat powders.
They should have named the Indian version Tap to Tap
Though they are rarely found these days, prickly heat powders (with unique names like Nycil and Shower to Shower) were a huge deal back then.
Back then, they were Not So Nycil
Prickly heat powders were icky, smelt plasticky, and were hated by their user group. Yet, they were strongly recommended by mothers and grandmothers. The powders were sprinkled before and after playing, waking, going to bed, sleeping, eating, and breathing. Thanks to their strong fragrance, the smell of prickly heat powders is irreparably intertwined with the smell of summers.
There are fruits, and then there is the Mango. In an age before juices, cartons, and processed fruit concentrates, the mango fruit ruled supreme over summer kitchens. Back then, the only popular fruit drink was Rasna. But it took so long to prepare, that at the end you felt like a rishi whose tapasya was finally answered. So the only other option was to eat the mango together at home.
Yes, we lived in more innocent times.
The process generally began with dad bringing mangoes home, which would then be cut and distributed to everybody in the house. There was something liberating about eating a mango. While you were being asked to behave properly all the time, nobody could tell you that while eating a mango. You could bite into the mango like a savage, suck on the seed, and peel away the last remaining pulp from the peel. You could get your hands dirty, and lick the dripping juice off your fingers, pretty much like Katrina Kaif does today.
The fact that mangoes only came in summers added to their association with the season. For no summer was complete without eating mangoes.
3. Cool drinks.
Before Coke and Pepsi colonized our refreshment space, we had our own desi competitors. Gold Spot, Citra, and Teem. With liberalization, the biggies entered India and bought off all the companies, except for Thums Up, which had too much of a cult following to kill the brand. With the economy expanding like never before, Pepsi and Coca Cola devised new ways to entrap a booming target market – us. They used the two opiums of the masses – cricket and cinema, giving form to numerous memorable ads starring Shah Rukh Khan, Sachin Tendulkar, and Rahul Dravid (among others). It helped that cool drinks were the forbidden fruits of our times. Parents warned us against their harmful effects, and yet we flocked to the shops for a bottle of the coloured liquid ecstacy. All thanks to glitzy ads on shiny new colour TVs. Summers brought with them cricket tournaments, new ads, and new flavours, firmly cementing the place of cool drinks in our memories.
4. Family Vacations.
Before Goibibo, Yatra, and Makemytrip, there was children throwing tantrums dot com. Summer vacations were an annual (or bi-annual feature) in every family. If your parents worked in a bank, you went to the trip with all the other employees and their kids. If they didn’t, you set off on the adventure with neatly packed suitcases that contained your clothes, a Kodak camera (with 2 reels), food, utensils, handkerchiefs, socks, bed sheets, pillows, and a thousand other things only we Indians manage to stuff into travelling bags. Summer vacations were also the only time when parents would take out their sunglasses (cooling glasses) and pose with them in photographs. It was the only time our parents were allowed to be cool. The reels printed out hazy pictures of awkward clothes, sunny locations, out of focus images, and creepy smiles that were forever frozen in albums and memories.
5. Summer television.
Doordarshan ran its own special programming for the summers. Jungle Book, Talespin, Ducktales – were all graciously added to the regular dose of Mahabharata and Chandrakanta. Apart from these, Doordarshan also added summer special shows called Chhutti Chhutti¸ a series of asinine puppet shows by bored actors and drugged students. Needless to say, we gobbled them up. As the years passed on, Doordarshan felt like the poorer cousin to shiny new colour TVs and cable channels. The summers also had a minimum of one cricket tournament involving India – a World Cup, or a Sharjah series, or one of the ‘Independence Cups’. Perhaps the greatest reason was that one man who brought us smiles every summer. The man who went by the name of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Every year, Sachin Tendulkar chose the summers to display the greatest skills in batsmanship. The summers of 90s were the time when Sachin Tendulkar was at his peak. A time when he would tap on the pitch, and wait for the greatest bowlers of the world to bowl to him. The world has changed, times have moved on. And yet, for every person who grew up in the 90s, these are memories that are intrinsically attached to the summer season.