Of middling life and summer nights

Of middling life and summer nights

The memories are clear but when one thinks of it now, the planet and place were not quite the same. After a hot and dreary summer day in Delhi, the community sleep in the small garden attached to our rented house seemed not just much-awaited but, in a strange sort of way, well-deserved too. The cool breeze which blew in the late evenings was like a breath of fresh air!

The garden had to be prepared much like a cricket pitch. Water was sprinkled all over the garden and the popular steel framed folding cots of then were laid out. The customary mattress was spread out on the beds. On either side of our little garden separated by a short hedge, the same exercise was being carried out by our neighbours. Die-hard news fans of those days, like my father, had a small transistor for company which would find its way into the garden. Another accoutrement was a small pedestal fan for use on warm summer nights. This fan, I remember, used to become very mobile during the night.

The starry Delhi night sky with the moon for company and a nice gentle breeze was the closest to bliss. Privacy was not an issue. Everyone seemed to be having the same lifecycle. Life followed a linear pattern and there were hardly any twists and turns, or at least, that is how the schoolboy in me perceived it.

The Board Examination results were being anxiously awaited. Our across-the-hedge neighbour had a son whose results were to be declared the next day. I remember being woken up in the early hours of the morning by the cries of the lady of that house. The boy, sensing a bad result, had decided to sneak off in the dead of the night. The results did come and the neighbour boy who was later found had got a ‘compartment’ requiring him to re-appear in a few subjects. Years later, I came to know that the same ‘compartment’ boy had become a successful chartered accountant.

Two things spelled dread and danger to a deep and peaceful sleep those nights. One was the sudden arrival of the showers often preceded by a notorious dust storm or ‘aandhi’. When that happened, the mattresses, beds and all other paraphernalia had to be carried back into the house in a jiffy. The other threat would appear sometimes at dawn in the form of a stray cow which would meander into our garden. These ruminating mammals were sometimes known to chew off quilts. Those who would be sleeping in their ‘lungis’ would, of course, have a lot more to fear and hide!

When I look back and reminisce about those days, I realise that the danger in the open on those summer nights of Delhi came not from thieves and robbers but from stray cows and showers. The clock can never be turned back and perhaps it never should be. However, I don’t quite know how many people living in today’s Delhi can imagine living life the way we did in those middling times. But that was then and this is now and we all move on, don’t we?