Pickling Summers

Summer. Some her. Some of her.

I’ve always remembered summer this way, especially those summers I spent in a place I was forced to call home. Summer holidays were highly anticipated, of course, for it marked the end of my battles with the nuns in school. But, it also meant looking forward to nothing but two months of battling the scorching wet, soaking heat under the straw roof with only a fan that worked on a single setting. Like everything else in the house, the regulator was also completely against us, only working on the single, lowest setting. No one ever bothered fixing it, of course.

The real challenge of summer was not the heat, but figuring out a way to spend all the time and energy that our little bodies possessed. Some days, when things got too dreary, mama would pull out an old tarpaulin sheet and tie it around the corners to make a make-shift pool and fill it with water for us to spend the day in. We tirelessly did just that till we got bored of it and then mama was put to task with finding something else for us to do. Mama always knew to make the best of whatever little we had, and so we learnt how to improvise and have fun in situations that had absolutely no scope whatsoever, of even a good time.

She knew that our most depressing days were those days where we didn’t fight with each other. On those days, she came up with her best ideas. Once, she took an old sack of flour from the kitchen, drew tracks around the garden with it and called it “The Selisle Sports Day”, complete with lemon race, sprint and hop-scotch. And many such events down the line, we discovered the art of pickle making.

One thing that the house had in plenty were fruit trees. Mangoes dominated the orchard and come summer, come mango pickle. Mama would wait patiently under the trees while we climbed up swiftly, pulling and throwing down all the raw mangoes in our path. But, thinking back to those summer days where we made pickles, the whole process seemed like a huge metaphor that mama used, to teach us the art of storing away our disappointments, much like she probably learnt how to do, for herself.

The plucked mangoes first needed to be soaked in water to loosen the heat. “Jaake nahaale, dimaag thanda ho jayega”, she often told us when we were in a bad mood. Next, a few mangoes were picked and kept aside. “Nirashayen dyan se chun lo, aur baaki sab chod do. Jo bhoj banne ke laayak hai, sirf wohi apne paas rakhlo”, was another common motto. Once the mangoes were picked, they were cut and diced. Some bits were kept and some bits were thrown. “Abhi ke liye bass itna dukh kaafi hai.” Then the diced mangoes were mixed in spice, brine and chillis, and poured into pickle containers where they would rest under the tight covers of a muslin cloth. “Apne dukhon ka acchar banaon; phir milenge unhe.” And of course, the tight muslin cloth was my mother, who made sure our disappointments never spilled over the edges.

Summer holidays were especially a time where disappointment bloomed along with the mangoes in our orchard, both ours and mama’s. All the happy times were shadowed by the stark reality that I had to go back to the nuns once it was over. Summers marked all the holidays that everyone else went on, but the ones that we never went on. Summer meant that we spent more time improvising than ever. Summer was hell, summer was horrible and soaking wet. Summer was a lot of our disappointment and some of hers. Summer meant staying back in a house for two months with people that were never really our own.

Summer was just a hot amplifier for the misery that we nurtured- the ones we didn’t learn how to pickle.

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Meher Kaliyaadan

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