Summers came with the heat wave, the mangoes, the freedom and the boredom. It also meant sleeping under the stars, visiting relatives, going to the village etc. etc. Summers were hot and very much so in the town we grew in. I am not sure if it is because of the topology or because it was a mining town. It used to regularly cross the 42 degree centigrade. Now, many places are getting as hot if not hotter. Back then, our town had the dubious distinction of being a very hot place.
Right after Ugadi – the Telugu new year, we took to sleeping outside. Sleeping under the stars. As the evenings grew warm, we would spread our foldable beds called “Madata manchalu” out, in the yard amidst the trees and plants. The whole concept of these folding beds itself is very interesting. It is hard to explain unless one has seen it, so I will leave it to the older generations who knew it. For those who did not see them, it would suffice to know that they were foldable and can be stacked next to each other, thus taking little space when not occupied.
We had a lot of trees around and so there used to be quite a bit of breeze. The breeze too would be hot till around 9 to 10pm. The rituals for sleeping out, started in the evening itself. The ground was watered in the evening so that it cools down by the time we sleep. Around 8pm before dinner, all the beds will be laid out. The bed sheets which are hot to touch in the confines of the home, are spread out to cool down. Then by the time we finish dinner and all the chores by 9pm, the bed spreads were also cooler to touch. On days when it is really stifling, we would get the portable stand fan to cool us down. The entire neighborhood would be sleeping out. Very few homes had AC and it was quite the norm to sleep in the outdoors in summer. So even those households that had AC enjoyed sleeping under the stars.
Till mid April we had schools and exams. So after eating and studying we would just sleep. But the excitement started with the last day of exam. As it was a small town, we had 2 or 3 schools only. And most kids around would go to the same school, which meant that the exam dates, holidays etc coincided for all the kids. So the last day of exam, there would be a lot of excitement. We would play late till 7 or 7.30 pm. Play did not include any gadgets. TV did not figure much in the entertainment space. We would play games like four stones, kho, tokkuda billa – not sure of the name in English. Games that only needed few kids, little space and lot of enthusiasm. Yes, we did have all those ingredients. Enthusiasm to play is something that is available with kids always, only it is shifted to gadgets now.
We also had a kind of a ritual for the last day of school. We would gather in the evening at one house and with the help of the lady of the house, we would cook up something simple like a kichidi. All of us would get some rice and dal. Put all in one pressure cooker, cook with the help of one of the mothers. By then we would pick some big leafs and ladle spoonfuls of the hot food into the make shift plates. It was simple, just rice, dal and salt, but then it was high on taste. I am not sure what added to it. The mishmash of the different kinds of rice and dal, or the excitement or the taste of the leaf getting transferred to the hot food. Or just the simple excitement. The taste still lingers on my tongue. After this, we would start playing till dinner time.
After dinner – around 9pm, the kids nearb, gathered in one home. As all the beds are already laid out, we would gather on a bed and the story sessions started. When the elders were around they were either stories that were read from the Chandamama or Amar Chitra Katha. But occasionally, the elders would gather in one home and the kids in another. And at that time, story sessions revolved the movies seen recently or the serials read from weekly magazines. We would also have guests, cousins or younger uncles/aunts who are visiting who would become the center of attraction. They would tell about the cities/towns they were visiting from or the newer movies they saw. This would go on for an hour or so. And then the sleep time started – meaning get back to our own homes/beds.
Sleeping seeing the stars and the most importantly the flights was our favorite pastime. Tracking the flights thru the sky lit night was amazing. As those run on schedules, we would know based on the day of the week, when we could spot and in which direction. We would know that on Tuesday it would go above the mango tree at 10pm and on Thursday it was towards to Neem tree at 9.30pm. We were told that you could go to America in the planes. And for the younger kids – sky became America. The occasional summer showers would first see us praying with the bed sheet fully covered, that the rain stopped. Some times it did convert into a full blown summer storm. When it poured, then we would run inside half wet. Cool outside and hot inside the home became a night mare that we had to endure on those days. Anyways most days the star lit sky, the light cool breeze would lull us off to sleep until the piercing rays of the morning sun.