The Indian summer is brutal – it is scorching, debilitating and merciless. As the old Al Stewart song goes, Indian summer /The earth is cracked beneath the midday sun /You’ve dragged your shadow round these streets too long /There is no cover… And yet there are some wonderful sensory experiences connected only and only with the Indian summer. These are evocative sensory incidents that can trigger a tumult of memories, feelings and emotional responses:
1. The smell of the ‘champa’ flower
2. The sound of the koel
It is the most ordinary looking of birds with the most extraordinary of voices – the honeyed, plaintive sound of the koel starts off in cajoling tones and then rises to a hysterical sounding crescendo.
3. The taste of Roohafza
What used to be referred to in my house during my childhood as “that foul rose drink” is nevertheless one of the mainstays of Indian summer. Enjoy it in milk, as a topping for vanilla ice cream, or with a twist of lime – cooling and refreshing.
4. That first blast of the desert cooler
That peculiarly Indian thing, the desert cooler feels wonderful as you come in out of the scorching heat of the sun. The smell of the water falling on the straw pads of the cooler is reminiscent of lazy Sunday afternoons in the summer vacations when school used to be a distant memory.
5. The smell of ripe mangoes
When I was a child, we used to buy unripe Alfonso mangoes by the crate and ripen them in a bed of straw. I used to sneak into the room just for a whiff; the anticipation of juicy, sweet, satisfying mangoes.
6. The indescribable joy of the cold bath/drink
The water tank heats up, so you fill water in a bucket and wait for it to cool all day, and then take a bath at the end of a sweltering day: Utter Bliss! And as for drinking off a bottle of chilled water, while letting some of it trickle on to your skin… again, bliss!
7. The matchless smell of wet earth
8. A snatch of a rain melody
The yearning for the rain can become a sweet ache. When the sound of a favourite rain song on the radio, on the TV (we all have a list of favourite rain songs I think) assaults the senses, that sweet ache can become a physical pain.
9. The urgency of trying to finish an ice cream before it melts
10.The acute yearning to escape to the hills
11.The peculiar satisfaction of boasting and predicting
As the English are preoccupied with the weather, we Indians take a unique grim satisfaction in boasting about the heat “it was 44 here today; the A/C has been on for weeks in our house” and in forecasting –“It’s going to climb to 49 this year-it’s going to be a bad case of El Niño”
12.The pleasure of sleeping under the stars
Climbing up to the terrace with bedding and pillow tucked under the arm, lying under the stars counting shooting stars, chatting desultorily about the day before blessed sleep overtakes the senses… one of the other little delights of an Indian summer.
13.The enjoyment of the swing
It could be a tyre suspended from a banyan tree, it could be a swing big enough to sleep on – the swing’s lulling motion with the cool breeze blowing… each of us probably has a fond childhood memory involving a swing.
14.The relief of a cloudy sky
When the pitiless, pale blue gives way to rolling grey, moisture laden clouds, we Indians experience a joy so profound and an anticipation so acute, that it is difficult to put into words. As for the joy of the first rains: the rushing out to get soaking wet, to become a child once again, to splash in muddy puddles and to stick out the tongue to taste those first drops of nectar – well, that is tough to articulate as well.
By – Reena Daruwalla