As the summer vacation draws to a close and children get ready to start school, albeit from home this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, enjoy this throwback to summer vacations in the 80s and 90s childhood.
Hooray, hooray, it’s a holi-holiday
What a world of fun for everyone, holi-holiday
Hooray, hooray, it’s a holi-holiday
Sing a summer song, skip along, holi-holiday
It’s a holi-holiday…
I can’t help but sing along with Boney M as I sit to pen my memories of the summer vacations.
The annual result signalled the coming of the summer vacation. I remember accompanying my mother to the annual result, dreading what that green cover of the report card would enclose. My heart would go pit-a-pat! I would be terribly afraid thinking what if I fail (even though I had been a topper throughout)! My mother would collect the report card and look at the marks and then look at me! The suspense would be unbearable! Finally, she would smile and the teacher would shower me with praises. Phew! How well I remember those days!
On the way back from school, mummy would purchase ice-cream to celebrate the first division and distinctions. How I loved those yummy choco-bars and mango dollies! I would relish each bite and let it slowly slide down my throat, enjoying the cooling effect.
Summer holidays also meant lots of story books, comics and sketch books with colours. The mornings would begin with hot, crispy paranthas and potato masala stuffed into shallow fried capsicum chillies or aaloo poori or aaloo paranthas! The king of fruits, the mango would occupy a special place at the dining table during breakfast time. Dassera, Tota-pari, Langda, Safeda, Badam… yummy… you named it and you ate it! Each day, breakfast would be a celebratory meal.
After breakfast, my sister and I would spend an hour or two struggling with division or multiplication sums and my grandmother made sure that we did our sums right. Then would come the fun part, dress our dolls for a tea party and cook food with our toy kitchen sets. The afternoon meal would be equally delicious with the traditional aam ka achaar. The fragrance and the flavour of the raw mango and lasoda pickle was enough to make your mouth water. The dal-chawal would taste better than any biryani with the food liberally spread with the masala and the oil from the pickle! Many a times we revelled in the taste of plain raw mangoes and green chillies soaked in brine.
Ah… but I remember my mother preparing the raw mango pickle. On my mother’s instructions, my father would purchase raw mangoes, the lasodas, the list of required masalas and the mustard oil. Mummy would begin the long procedure first by washing the mangoes and lasodas. She would then boil the lasodas with haldi and spread them out in the sun on an old cloth, the mangoes chopped into small pieces too would meet the same fate. After they had a sun bath they would find their way into huge jars and be sprinkled liberally with the roasted masalas.
I remember my mother’s bangles tinkling softly as she worked ceaselessly. A pungent aroma of the mustard oil with a hint of garlic would permeate the air. Once the boiling hot oil had cooled down, it would be poured into the jars and drown the other condiments inside. Mummy would cork them tightly and tie a cloth on the top. She would reverently place these jars in the burning summer sun for days. My sister and I would harass her to let us taste the pickle just once, hoping that it would be ready! We could hardly wait for mummy to announce that the pickle was done! Ooohhh…! The delicious first bite of the tangy spicy mango was heavenly! The aroma and flavour, just divine!
We never had any coolers or air conditioners in those days. After lunch, my grandmother would unroll the age-old bamboo screens and my sister and I both used to splash it with water on granny’s instructions. The scent of the wet bamboo still lingers in my mind. The afternoon would pass pleasantly reading Fairytales, Chacha Choudhary, Pinky, Tinkle, Amar Chitra Katha, Enid Blyton and the lot!
Should I tell you a secret? Promise me, you won’t tell anyone… my sister and I both used to raid the store room for tamarind when everyone was asleep! How we loved to sprinkle salt on the tamarind and savour it slowly! After the siesta, the elders would serve huge pieces of the sweet water melon on plates and advise us to eat carefully. We were told not to swallow any seeds, otherwise a tree would soon begin to grow in our stomachs, putting out branches from our nose, ears and mouth. And, sometimes we relished the khatta-meetha falsa, spitting out the tiny seeds diligently, terribly afraid of the trees taking root in the stomach!
Evening tea time would definitely mean aam ka ras or aam ka panna accompanied with dal ke pakore or mixed vegetable pakoras. Sometimes, we also prepared tikki chaat and paani puri, with mummy teaching us how it was to be done.
After tea time, our happy family would sit down to a game of Scrabble, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders or Carom. There would be much howling and screaming from the two of us when we played in opposite teams. As the shadows grew longer and Dusk would make her presence felt, we would stand in the garden with our grandmother looking at the birds flying homewards, creating quite a ruckus. Mummy would light the candles and call us all in for the evening prayer.
The television would be switched on for a short duration while mummy cooked the evening meal. Once the meal was ready, my sister and I would help in placing the crockery and dishes on the table. My grandmother was very particular about laying the white table cloth right, placing the plates, spoons, forks and glasses correctly. My mother’s magic at dinner time would leave us spell bound. There would be stuffed tindas or bhindis, longee, boondi raita and soft chapattis! What more could one ask for? Dessert would be custard with jelly or fruit custard or ice cream!
After the evening meal it would be time to take a walk in the garden under the sweet smelling flowers of the neem trees with our grandmother and count the stars in the sky. My grandmother would point out different stars or constellations and narrate stories about them. All this while, my parents would sprinkle the courtyard with water for it to cool down and then carry out the folding beds. We would sleep out in the courtyard staring up at the sky as the guava tree waved in unexpected blasts of hot air. Mosquitoes would sing and hum in the background and had to be chased away with ‘Tortoise mosquito coils’.
A pedestal fan tried to give us all some breeze as we lay trying to sleep in the heat. Mummy would narrate stories about kings, queens, fairies, magic trees, lost children, magic utensils, sadhus and magicians as our eyelids slowly fluttered, and she kissed our cheeks. If we woke up thirsty, we would drink the fragrant water from new surahis. Quite often we would be rudely awakened by a dust storm and drizzle and would rush indoors sleepily. And, even before our parents could set the bed for us, we would be off to the Land of Nod again! In the morning we would wake up to the scent of wet mud and a carpet of neem flowers, few nimboris, the songs of the Koel and the loud trills, whistles and squawks of a flock of parrots.
Days would thus pass in such simple delights! Time would appear to be participating in some race! Soon it would be time to go back to school! The summer vacation I always felt ended too quickly!
Isn’t it true? What do you think?
(Homemade food pictures courtesy: Lipi Bhattacharya)
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