Summer, you were a foe,
a smoked piece of flesh of a lover
and a fiend, with a fetish
for freckles, in tow
Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway made sure I could not romanticize summers while growing up. So vividly beautiful were their descriptions of the crisp summer wind and so deliriously scrumptious their longing to chew blades of grass while listening to songbirds. Life in the city could not even begin to compare.
Books that paint pretty pictures about summers suck me into an ecstatic vortex only to regurgitate me in bitter proportions. It leaves me bewildered about how mundane my world is. At least when compared to the wealth of love and learning in-between yellowing pages.
I can’t complain though. I had my share of sweet summer nostalgia. My dad’s family hailed from what was a remote village – until the mid-2000s, in Kanchipuram. I have spent a many summer weekends with my grandparents. Acres of lush-green fields. Women holding, with grace and elan, buckets, of water against their hips. Men carrying huge stacks of hay or rice bags on their bicycles. Children running behind motor vehicles. Ducks and roosters going crazy at the crack of dawn. Sights and sounds that one would associate rural life in India. It was all there.
They had a hen coop right outside the front door. And a large Y-shaped wooden stick that my grandfather used to protect the poultry against foxes, snakes and drunken fools. My grandmother made the best chicken curry-based breakfast. It would always taste better if we had the luxury of not seeing her snap the hen’s neck early in the morning, as the frightened creature screamed bloody murder.
They also had a cow pen, which once doubled as a mini-theater where the locals screened vernacular films on Sundays.
I also remember fondly my dad urging my sister and me to chew on dry neem twigs to clean our teeth in the morning. Once we did that, we ran straight into the neighbouring St Antonys High School compound and sheepishly lurked under a giant tamarind tree. When there was nobody else around, we would hurl pebbles at the drooping branches. Our teeth ached for that tangy brown flesh; that summery taste.
Summers in the cities weren’t so pear-shaped. My city is infamously hot and humid during this season. The rapid urbanization over the past two decades has taken its toll. My poor city doesn’t seem to have the stomach for poetry anymore. Now her idea of a quiet leisurely time involves Ikea furniture. And crowded beaches. Or those coffee houses with tacky paintings and every Buddha statue they could find to create a false moment of Zen for the elite working-class.
But again I can’t complain. As humid and sweaty as I felt the summer of 2015 was, I also saw a number of Spotted Owls. Despite having become regular sightings, they still overwhelmed me. Their antics, their glares, just everything.
One time I spotted a Polka-dotted pair whispering secrets to each other (watch video) as they posed magnificently, in the late morning light. I imagined that one was telling the other – “I hope he knows that summers may come and go but we will always be around”.
(Photographs – Kanchipuram, Chennai, Pulicat, Ponneri, Vedanthangal)