Summer: A Study in Relativity
First published in The Violet Hour Magazine, issue 1.2 (October 2016).
Summer when we were young was endless. School was out and time slowed down. Sundays slid into Mondays, days and dates made irrelevant by the lack of school hours.
Didi and I spent all day dreaming up new adventures, new games, and new arguments. Mangoes were a staple—mango shake, mango ice-cream, mango juice, mango chutney, mango pickle, mango fresh off the tree and eaten surreptitiously behind the garage.
We moved around quite a bit, so each summer was different. Summer in the Himalayan ranges was a pleasant flowery time, while the dusty summer of the northern Indian plains left us parched and dry. Summer afternoons on the southernmost tip of the Deccan plateau were spent mainly in the bathtub, with occasional breaks for chilled glasses of lime juice.
Power cuts were common, and quite exciting when the electricity went after dark. That’s when my father told us all those ghost stories. They were thrilling in a predictable sort of way—flickering candles, gusts of wind, and black-shawled tonga-wallahs with horse hooves instead of the regulation human limbs.
These stories made us anxious to have an encounter of our own with a creature from the beyond. Each time we moved, we would discover at least one haunted house in the neighborhood. We would then visit this house at the stroke of midnight, but other than a couple of flapping white sheets and one strange door onto which the face of an old man was painted, we never found anything supernatural. In retrospect, I think it may have been a mistake to take the dogs along: we made noise enough to wake the dead.
Despite numerous setbacks in our search for the paranormal (in the form of angry watchmen, disapproving neighbors, and exasperated parents), we remained optimistic. Our night-time expeditions may have contributed to the trail of poltergeist rumors that followed our travels across the country.
As we grew older, summers grew shorter. Didi and I went to separate hostels and spent all year waiting desperately for summer. We grew even more nocturnal, staying up all night reading books, playing board games, and working on pleasurably boring projects she thought up—like cataloguing all our books, or working on our never-ending 12,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, or making one gigantic all-pieces-combined Lego edifice.
Towards morning, the dogs would ask to go out and we would spend a couple of happy hours in the garden. We would return to breakfast, tired and a little cranky, to sleep away the hottest part of the day. Many years have passed but to this day as each summer draws to a close, I feel a queer sense of longing. I can almost taste the desolation of another impending school year (the hard wooden benches, the ugly school uniform, the claustrophobic classrooms, and the repetitive 40-minute lessons), tinged with the anticipation of meeting old and new friends.
By the time we went to college, summers were whizzing by in the blink of an eye. We would go home for just a few weeks, impatient to get back to our university lives. It was nice at home, cozy and safe, but it wasn’t nearly exciting enough for two young adults perched on the brink of real life. We would eat our favorite foods, reread our favorite books, climb our favorite trees, but we would soon tire of childhood pastimes and look forward to getting back to discussions about metaphysical poetry and existential nihilism over shared cigarettes and canteen food.
Ma sometimes complains she never knew that the last summer we spent together as a family would be our last. Everything changed that year. I went away to graduate school to study philosophy and fall in love with the man I would marry. Didi started work on a doctoral thesis that would consume her life and her being for the next five years. The dogs died and our parents grew old almost overnight. Summer came to mean a rather large electricity bill and a stressful office commute. Looking back, I would not gift us foreknowledge. We had that one last summer together, unaware that we were growing up, and growing apart.