Golden summers

Golden summers


Golden summers

The mouth watering scent of raw mangoes... a blistering sun in a spotless blue sky... the feel of cold water on the skin from a village stream or a swimming pool. Food, tons and tons of delicious food lovingly cooked by grandmas, aunts, older siblings, cousins, old family retainers. There were the hot sooty journeys to home towns in trains pulled by steam engines...  forbidden, smuggled treats of violently coloured ice candy from a thermos flask, thenga-manga-pattani sundal on Marina beach. Lines of cousins sleeping crammed together on mats. The perfume of jasmines wafting in with the hot summer breeze and card games played on a hot afternoon on a cool verandah floor.

The list could just go on. As the temperature soared, so did our spirits. In the hottest of hot seasons, we would run barefoot across scalding roads and gardens, climb trees, play sweaty, muddy games and turn several shades darker without caring a hoot!
Summer in the 1950s and 60s was the most anticipated season of the year. It was the season of unfettered freedom, when exams were over and the new class was yet to begin. No homework. No stern teachers. No structured discipline. It was the season when we children were just turned loose!

For those who happened to live away from their parents’ natal families, summer meant trips to a grandparent’s home. A re-visiting of one’s roots. For those who had lived in the same place all their lives, it was a time when cousins came with a lot of new games and stories from far away.

The simple life
But those were different days, when grandmothers and mothers stayed at home and cooked or in some cases supervised the cooking. It was an era when families were large as well as large-hearted and child care responsibilities were shared. An era when bevies of brats ate and played and fought together, and were all thwacked, scolded, fed and pampered in the same manner, no matter to whom they belonged. It was a time when just a couple of adults would take a whole battalion out on a much anticipated excursion to the cinema or to the beach or maybe for that ultimate treat: A meal in a hotel.
Games were simple. No toys, let alone hi-fi equipment. The same hard board which was used to hold papers during the final exams would be transformed into a cricket bat as soon as the holidays began. The lanes in front of houses turned into cricket fields. Baby coconuts which had dropped off the trees would turn into balls. Courtyards and mud roads would be covered with hopscotch squares.

The many pillars and corners of the old houses would be used for playing hide and seek or ‘corners’. Skipping ropes would come out and some times adults would jump along too. The grand finale would often be a variety entertainment programme put up by the cousins of varying ages with a little bit of help from some adults. There would be a play composed for the occasion: Maybe a spoof on the family itself or maybe a drama with kings and villains. There would be dances and music by amateur orchestras and nursery rhyme recitations by the tiniest tots. Costumes would be improvised from saris and towels and bits of discarded silk. Flowers plucked from gardens and bits of tinsel would transform leaky nosed girls into princesses to be wooed by sweaty little boys with sari-turbanned heads. The adults would dutifully turn up, often after buying ‘2ps. tickets’ and sit on the floor in rows. And usually there would be a sumptuous treat waiting for the players after it was all over.

Romances blossomed during the summer holidays and sometimes even ended in weddings. In spite of the unrelenting heat, summer was the most popular wedding season. A family wedding also meant a bigger inflow of relatives, more yummy food and more cousins near and distant to play with. Weddings, usually took place in thatch pandals erected in the spacious yards of houses. The food was prepared by sweating cooks toiling in another similar structure. Since only family and close friends were invited, the food was traditional and homely. There were no electric fans and often guests sat on mats spread on the floor. The perfume of jasmines and roses mingled with smoke and sweat and rose water giving that special wedding smell.

Some romances died during the summer, their tender tentative shoots scorched by the heat generated by pokey-nosed relatives. Summer also brought its share of tragedies. Someone failing in the final exams. Summer illnesses which spread like lightening. Maybe even a death, as medical care was neither advanced nor easily accessible, especially in remote towns or villages.

Since both my parents came from large families, my summers were never dull. We would always congregate in our grandparents’ houses during the summer. Since both sets of grandparents lived in Bangalore, I could move from one set of cousins to the other. That was of course a different Bangalore. A leisurely slow paced city with huge child friendly gardens and large climbable trees.

I would move from playing ‘Catch’ under the enormous Java fig trees in my mother’s garden in Highgrounds (where Le Meridien now stands) to hide and seek in my father’s gracious old family house in Basavangudi where the other set of cousins would have descended. As we drove through Cubbon Park from one house to the other, my father would stop and point out the tree under which he and his friends would hang out when he cycled from Basavangudi to St. Joseph’s college. We would stop and gaze at Vidhana Soudha which seemed to be taking an eternity to get built. The entire trip along comfortably empty roads lined by shady trees would take not more than 20 minutes with all the stops included.

Golden bubble
And then I had another extra stretch of fun. During my growing up years, my parents lived just 60 miles away from Bangalore in the Kolar Gold Fields, lovingly called ‘Little England’ by its inhabitants. KGF summers were different because of a rather unique set of circumstances. By the late 50s, the mines had been nationalised and almost all the British founders of KGF had gone back ‘home’. But they had left behind their institutions which gave our little town its Colonial flavour.

Though we did not have much money to spend, we lived luxurious lives in spacious bungalows serviced by cooks and butlers, dhobies and malis, cleaning women and maintenance staff. The pace of life was gentle yet rimmed with danger because of what lurked beneath our feet. KGF was a kind of golden bubble. A cosmopolitan yet insular community where everyone knew everyone else. It had all the ingredients of a village society with the amenities of a modern township. No one ever wanted to leave. Not even our summer visitors!

KGF was an ideal summer holiday locale for visiting cousins. The British did not have large extended families. But their successors did. The sprawling bungalows, where the Brits had once lived in regal solitary splendour, would be filled during the summer holidays with extended families on vacation. Apart from cousins and relatives there would be friends from various boarding schools and hostels where the KGF children went to study. Over the summers, the cousins and friends would bond with the local groups and over the years the groups of annual visitors would also became a part of the extended KGF family.

But obviously life moves on. Aspirations change as do lifestyles. The change was not dramatic or sudden, but it happened. Women got educated and moved out of their homes in search of paid jobs. Families shrank. Joint families disintegrated. Living spaces were transformed. Kitchens catered to single unit families. Faithful retainers and toiling daughter-in-law faded out of the landscape. 

More importantly, the economics changed. There was more money floating around and fewer children to cater to. Hi-tech toys replaced the hardboard cricket bats and summer camps provided the new summer holiday ambience. Harried working mothers hunted for places where their children could be kept safe and occupied. A grandparent’s house was no longer an option because more often than not the grandparents were busy coping with their own lives with no young people to support them. With both parents working, time was the issue not money. Working parents found it easier to buy entertainment for their children close to home.

As for the KGF bubble it too faded away as the gold petered out. Were my summers as golden as I remember them to be?  Perhaps they were. But then again, perhaps all summers are golden when you are young...





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