“Those Were the best days of my life” from Bryan Adams’ “Summer of 69” play as soon as the words “summer vacation” pop into my head.
Summer holidays were a scheduled time to relax, frolic around, play with friends, gorge on “goals,” packet Pepsi, kulfi, and ice creams, and enjoy the little games we invented every day. It was a time to meet friends, catch up on our respective schools and exchange colony gossip. The best time to reload our last summer vacation memories and think of ways to make the current one memorable!
I fondly remember how I looked forward to my train journeys from Nagpur to Mumbai for my summer vacations. Two months were bliss for me. Mumbai being my birth city and home to most of my childhood friends, I have always had a soft corner towards it. So I made my first best friends there and got my best college buddies.
Apart from enjoying our favorite street food – pani puri, pav bhaji, cut raw mangoes in salt, and candy from the local shops – we loved window shopping in gift shops and roaming around markets. It was a time to invent the top games for our gang, sometimes reinventing old card games too. We played everything from pretend play to doll games and even trading books.
My summer memorabilia always included shells, stones, and various colorful items we got while playing in our colony. Summer rains were common in this region, and I loved getting drenched and dancing with friends. We just needed an excuse to get wet. So digging out shells from wet mud would be our pastime. When we reached home, we would be in on an excellent blasting from our families, looking at our muddy appearance. But nothing affected us as children. We took in all the yelling and even some bashing but did not give up our wild selves. Following the first rains, we fell sick, too, but the moment we recovered, we returned to our naughty tricks and antics.
Such was childhood – those innocent, carefree days when our only worry was getting a scolding from elders, being grounded at home, or being told we would not get a particular meal. The one way we mostly escaped grounding was our friends ringing the doorbell or yelling our names from below the balcony to come to play. Our parents mostly gave in to our rapidly rolling tears and friends’ pleading voices, letting us go down to play.
Summers had another attraction – mangoes! My grandmother would pre-order mango crates (unripe ones) a month ahead, and by the time we arrived during the summer holidays, we could dig into the juicy mangoes. Almost all meals had mangoes – cut pieces of ripe to eat, raw mango pieces dipped in salt and chili powder, the famous aamras (mango pulp), aam panna (juice from raw mangoes), murabba (grated mangoes made with either sugar or jaggery, cardamom, cloves, and kesar/saffron), Chanda (a word in Marathi for sweet and sour grated mango pickle) and a myriad variety that she made lovingly. I have eaten practically all Indian types of the King of Indian fruits, but the Konkan variety of mangoes plays another level of magic on our tongues. We would blissfully sink our teeth into luscious ripe mango flesh or even squirt juice on our friends as we ate them.
Magic of first rains
The smell of fresh rains falling on hot soil is priceless. The way we all waited for thundering clouds to rumble and the slow fall of those tiny raindrops reflected our raw and unfiltered happiness (minus smartphones or who is clicking our photographs). Raincoats and gumboots were our favorites when we wanted to dig shells from the wet mud while cats and dogs were still raining. Nothing deterred us – getting a fever, cold, and cough – from going and getting muddy.
Apart from the rains, even the hot sun did not limit our activities. We would go walking around in the colony, spy on “other kids” at times, do pretend to play, or if we felt like having a cold drink, we would quickly cross the streets to buy a bottle of either Gold Spot, Duke, or Rasna – one bottle shared amongst us. Even the taste of a few cold drops from the bottle was enough to send us into ecstasy mode! To get fancier, we sometimes would buy the sweet, mint-flavored Phantom cigarette (not the real one) and pose as if we were smoking.
Holiday homework blues
None of us were spared the “vacation spoiler” – the excellent holiday homework to be submitted on the first day of school. Our biggest villain for the summers but also a personal challenge we set among friends as to who would be the first to complete the homework. So, it became fun since all of us were sailing the same “homework” boat. It was another way of convincing parents to let us play for extended hours (till dusk). A motivation every morning to wake up and finish our activities at “Godspeed.”
Every night, my childhood friends and I would sit and talk about everything under the sun (I do not even remember the topics we spoke about now). As we grew older, our conversations extended to studies and life beyond school and chosen careers. We had come a long way from dolls to creating jokes and playing pranks on friends. Yet, in our almost 35 years of friendship, we have not yet lost our old bonds and essence – that is magical to us. Our gang still catches up now and then with each other – this time over jobs, children, and respective families!
All my diaries were filled with memories shared with my buddies during the summers – one of the best times of our lives.
Indeed, I want my son to have the same sweet childhood memories. I love telling my son this: “There are only 18 summers in childhood. So, make each one count!”
Priya is a quirky writer/photographer/closet poet, and singer who has traversed a non-conventional path. As a former entertainment journalist who has worked in print and online media for a decade, Priya loves talking to people and writing their unspoken stories. She is the single parent of an 8.5-year-old son settled in Tamil Nadu and a freelance Content Consultant. Priya is also an informal mentor to parents in her local parenting network. She dreams of being an author and maybe a scriptwriter someday!
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