This was probably the last summer vacation of my life. Blame it on recession and the unpredictable B’luru weather that eventually made me write this really long post.
Early memories : I spent the first 7 years of my life in Bangalore and we stayed in a staff quarters. It was huge with a couple of parks within and lots of space for us kids to wreak havoc. As my parents were working, I was entrusted in the care of Ammumma
during the day. There was a gang of 8-10 of us who turned out to be the neighbours’ nightmare. Be it chasing the neighbours’ dogs or breaking their flower-pots and windows, flicking clothes from the clothes line or running across the grains that were spread out in the sun to dry ( gone are those days when coriander seeds, chilies, wheat etc were powdered in the mill after drying in the sun)… they all knew who the culprits were. As girls were a minority, we were bullied into playing games, which were monopolized by the boys. Cricket, goti ( marbles), spinning the top, football… these were the games we were forced to play :(. The only game both sides consented to play was ‘hide and seek’. We would usually play this game in the afternoons when most of the aunties in the building would be enjoying their siestas and the coast was clear for us to hide on the terrace and between the water-tanks. I had my first lessons in P&C , with ‘in-pin-safety-pin’ , trying to save myself from being the seeker. Now we had our own innovative ways of cheating but this one tops the list. Since we girls lived in the same block, sometimes our clothes would be hung to dry on the clothesline on the terrace. The boys would fit themselves into the skirts and stick their butts out from behind a door or on the landing space of the stairs, misleading the seeker. So he had to count, recount and do so for the entire afternoon.
Few summers passed with the same old routine until life changed with a transfer to Trivandrum. . I was heartbroken to leave my circle of friends and my only concern was will I make friends in Tvm? Our rented house in Tvm was at the entrance of this by-lane and there was no one of my age around. My first friend here is a well-known math tuition teacher for 11-12 classes in Tvm now ( Prasad sir)! So you can imagine how, a 7 year old girl was all lonely and sad, with no friends and no one to play with. Summers then made my parents paranoid. Both of them couldn’t afford to take leave and were wondering what to do with me.
The first solution was a failed attempt at sending me to Jawahar Bal Bhavan. June was still a problem as schools reopened but I had vacations until the last week of June. With no other option left, I’d be dragged to my parents offices, alternating between the two. Amma’s office was small in terms of work force but had a huge expanse of area, situated close to our house. It was a prominent research centre and had numerous testing labs, workshops etc and when Amma was too busy, I would slip out to these places. I had my hands on experience with a voltmeter and other similar equipment at an age when I could barely spell their names. Workshop was my favorite hangout watching the technicians doing the cutting, drilling, moulding etc. A huge windmill, which was assembled during one such vacation, was a fascinating sight still etched in my memory. Solar panels, biomass stoves… I was introduced to the non-conventional energy sources quite early and I didn’t leave a single opportunity to show off during science classes in school. Once, there was this group of French Scientists working on a new prototype of a solar cooker and I was officially a part of the research team’s entertainment, sitting wide-eyed and awestruck seeing that water boiled with no fire. Magic, Magic, the Frenchmen tried to fool me though I blindly believed them then :P. The office had a huge garden and I would mercilessly catch butterflies and put them in a small container. So also, I developed this fascination for a certain type of weed, which looked beautiful. Planning to surprise my mom, I made a bouquet with the available weeds, grass and all that trash (plucking flowers from the garden was a strict no-no… whoever said the gardener Manian was my best friend) but the surprise element came when I developed rashes and started itching all over my body.
Visits to Appa’s office was another experience altogether. This was the typical govt. office, overstaffed, filled with dusty files, gossip aunties, and virtually no space for me to wander about.. People who went to my Dad for attestation work, often complained he couldn’t be located, seated behind the files. Well, the aunties in office pampered me for sure. I’d be seated at the corner of Appa’s table with the age-old technique of making a child docile… drawing book, sketch pens and crayons. Watercolors were a strict no-no after I managed to add some color to someone’s Confidential Report that my dad was working on. I was not the kind who could sit quiet for hours together in some corner. When Appa was not looking, I would sneak out and once, got lost. A couple of years later, the construction of our house began in the far end of the same by-lane and those 2 years were the times I enjoyed my summer vacations to the maximum.
The construction work began in a summer and Appa was on leave. I would accompany him to the site and learnt the basic lessons of construction. Those days if anyone asked me what you want to be when you grow up I’d answer ‘Mesthiri ayal mathi’ ( I want to be a Mason). I would pester the carpenter to let me try a hand at the device used to scrape wood and level them, or else mix cement or be part of some activity or other. One day after being brushed off by all of them, I was playing the sand that was piled up on our construction site. Remember the ‘mannappams‘ we made with coconut shells. I was busy making a few, when this girl and her sister joined in from the neighbourhood. ( More people had moved into the neighbourhood by then). Those days something as simple as ‘njanum varatte‘( can I also join in) laid the foundation for a life-long friendship. Today imagine the number of times you think about whether to take the initiative and ask ‘can I join in?’ without being asked to. The three of us hit off really well and in a couple of days, there were few more additions to the gang. We were seven of us now and this time girls were a majority 🙂 . There was a basement, left idle in an adjacent plot, which became our official playground. ‘Kanjim curryum‘ was our favorite kali(game).( what else do you expect when a gang of five girls, aged 7-12 join in). So we girls had our first lessons in managing the household. At that time, the soil dug out in the process of digging a well was piled in the plot. The different layers were of different colors. We had enough ‘raw material’ and ‘provisions’ to last us for one summer. Sand, bricks, mud, leaves, broken utensils, water, wooden scrapings… name it, you had it. Our menu and ingredients were something like this: Sand-Rice Red soil+ water- Sambhar/Rasam ,
Yellow soil+ water- Pulisseri (a mallu dish made with curd),
White soil+ water- Morumvellam (buttermilk),
Mussaenda – chicken pieces
wood scrapings( the long ones)- cabbage thoran, Soon anthurium flowers found their way into the menu ( it was fish fry I guess) and neighbours started wondering what was happening to their plants. Our creativity in culinary skills were enhanced with all those chambaykkas( water apples), mangoes and pulis (tamarinds) we managed to gorge on during the summers.(and developed digestive problems too).
At the end of the day, I was allowed entry into the house only through the backdoor, which led to the bathroom. “Kulikkathe ninne veetil kettila. Kaala kalichu, chelil kulichu vannekkunnu” ( I wont let you enter my house, unless you have a bath) Amma would scream . Soon construction began in the adjacent plots too and we were a sad group with literally no place to gather and play. Indoor games and board games were not for us! Each passing summer also stood witness to the fact that we were growing up. We were placed with greater responsibilities, esp. on the academic front. Tuitions ate into our playtime; people started focusing on their studies, my piano grade exam preps took all my time in the summer hols and the entire gang was now reduced to a group of people who were acquainted with each other. As years progressed , few of us moved into different cities while some of them shifted from the locale.
Separated by time and distance all that remains are the sweet memories of those summers.