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As promised Iris is back with her weekend post. Summer vacations are starting here and perhaps everywhere, wherever there is a summer. As someone who is into teaching, it feels like an extension of my own life when I watch students booking their tickets, picking up their bags, and excitedly boarding the crowded trains and buses.

Summer vacations have had a great value in the psyche of the great Indian middle class student population. This is the time when you get to meet families, friends, cousins, grandparents…. This is usually the time for holiday homework if you are in school, UG exams if you are not in the semester system of a college, camps if you have the luxury of spending money, traveling back home if you are in hostels, or chilling out at home with families if you are not far off.

As vacations approach, I am transported into flashback mode through various layers of my own life. Summer vacations have always meant a lot to me. At school it meant that I don’t have to wake up at 7 am and get ready for school at 8.00 am, meeting my grandparents and cousins who were living in other states across India, the class 9th and class 11th summer vacations meant doing Maths 😦 and finishing courses for the coming year.  In college vacations meant going back home from hostel and meeting my three best friends of school days living in different engineering college hostels, during PG summer vacations meant crying while leaving friends and hostel to forcibly go home,  in IIT summer vacations meant time to brace up for the Progress Seminars, series meetings with guide and panel, and chilling out in the evenings by CCD with friends….

Strange na? There are certain phases of our lives that become a culture in themselves without our knowing. It’s only when you start thinking in retrospect that you realize that these were milestone days of your own life. People who know me personally and have been friends when read this post, will tease me — “she talks as if she is gonna die of old age next moment 🙂 !” However, who knows how long we live?

Vacations have been always important for everyone including me. Let me recount some of these phases. This is the time when Indian government announces special trains, this is the time when plans are made to enjoy, celebrate, or break the monotony of routine life. This is the time when you learn what is not conventionally taught to you.  If you had an uncle/uncles working in defense, this is the time when they used to come back home on what is called “warrant” and bring goodies for everryyyooonnnee in the family and extended family.

I had unique experiences of summer vacation as a child. Going back to my own kiddie days, some uncle would come to pick me up from my parents’ place and take me to my maternal grandparents house in the first phase of the vacations. As the only girl in the entire family, for years, I was the reigning queen at my maternal grandparents place. Grandpa was a great influence on me — he would make me sit in the early evenings on the terrace and teach me the names of the stars and teach me the position of the “Great bear” (Saptarshi) as the early stars started twinkling in the firmament. He would talk about Charles Dickens or R. N. Tagore and teach me to read little stories from Panchatantra as early as my first or second class summer vacation. He would ask me to read stories from my English Reader book and I still remember reading to him “David and Goliath” or “Marriage of Heaven and Earth” or “Late Kate” (I became a Late Kate in life myself:) ). Grandma would join us soon and teach me stotrams from Vedas and other scriptures, pooja and naivaidyam (as I grew up I considered these extremely Brahmanical and used to fight them). In fact, by the first or second summer vacation of class-I or class-II I was proficient in stotrams chanting: “shuklamvaramdhram vishnu shashi varnam chaturbhujam…” (don’t want translate it now). 

Little anklets were bought for me during my class-I summer vacation and a dance teacher was hired to teach me classical Odissi dance  (I must be around four years then because my parents were in an extraordinary hurry to send me off to school soon) . The anklets were actually heavier than my own weight 😦 … and I hated the teacher who taught me dance, because we were subjected to one and half hours of bols and taals some of which I did not understand an iota. However, in the long run dance was something that gave me a complete  freedom of expression when no amount of writing helped.

During the later half of the vacation, my parents would come and take me and my brother off to our paternal grandparents home in the village. This was diametrically opposite an experience than the small town experience of my mom’s home. Here we were with 20 other kids of aunts and uncles and distant relatives. No one kept a tab on our activities because mothers and aunts were busy in the kitchen with their pallus covering their heads, holding huge ladles and  cooking for 50 people during lunch and dinner. Sometimes when caught unawares during afternoons, mom would give one tight chide for recklessly playing through the entire day. However, they never dared open their mouths to scold us in front of grandparents. We would roam around and roll around on the sand mounds and play with little kids, running and rolling the bicycle wheel with them. I was sometimes treated as a little princess because mom would dress me up very tidily in a red frock and a red cap. I would then be carried by my youngest uncle on to the bed and all the children would encircle me on the floor, I would lisp and prattle to them all that I had learnt at school and at my maternal grandparents place. By the time I would be back home mom would get shocked to see the frock dirty beyond a second wear. I do not remember very well — but Hemant (my cousin, a little older than I)  recounts that I used to dance on the thatch attics during vacation, when either grandma or ma would come after  me with a stick 🙂 . He being the quieter, studious one would just laugh while I was into the mischief. Everyone would cite his example to me as a fantastic student, and me the good-for-nothing black-sheep. After many many years we were to meet at IIT as colleagues simultaneously doing research and competing with each other. Life plays strange games .

There were some characters  and activities specific to our childhood summer vacations — the Pani-puri wallah, the imli and lozenges (orange was my favourite flavour) wallah, the Kufi wallah, and the sugar-candy wallah. These forbidden foods were the favourite foods among us children. Moms were extra careful that we shouldn’t buy and eat these stuff in the afternoon — but there is always a way if there is a will. We practiced the principle of beg or borrow or break your savings box to eat these 😀 .Sometimes grandparents were too kind, sometimes if we ran errands for aunts or uncles then a 2 rs was given to us as an award for just one malai kulfi. Those days the kulfi wallah would play the bells on his trolley to attract children, and as we hovered around his trolley with 2rs each in hand. I loved to watch how deftly he brings out the sleek, ice-cold kulfi from the iron/tin covers — yummmiee!

There was a favourite activity — inevitably every summer during the vacation, there would be a hailstorm (called “mango showers”) with thunder storm, and large droplets of frozen ice falling from the sky. We would run out to the courtyard, pick-up the pieces of frozen ice on our palm, run back, coat them with sugar and lickk, lickk, lickk 🙂 . During the afternoons all of us were paraded to bed after lunch with one of the family members escorting  singing lullaby, or scolding for being naughty. But, we were extremely clever — we demanded for a story, and the narrator would herself/ himself fall asleep during the storytelling, and we would sneak out of bed 🙂 . Then the pillows would be torn beyond recognition, glass plates would be broken to pieces, the center table would be upturned and used as a boat with two of us sitting inside and two others pushing it, rowing it on the carpet :P.  Rest of the time we would be sitting on the guava branches, storming the guava tree in our courtyard. The excess of game would always drive us to fall sick before the vacation ended and the last phase would be a trauma of its own kind. Last moment holiday homework, fever, seeing off cousins and crying endlessly at the railway station, hating parents for bringing us back to home and school — vacations were coulourful.

The meaning of summer vacations change as you grow older. The learning also changes. By class 5th or 6th, during vacations my interest went to card-playing, learning Indian constitution, and quizzing from uncles, and reading a lot of Enid Blytons (permitted) and Sherlock Holmes (stole from grandpa’s book case). The moment mom would catch me playing cards, I would get the scolding of a lifetime for behaving ‘ungirl-ly’ types. Slowly, our movement during the vacations got restricted due to pressure of studies and growing up. During teenage years, vacations became a casualty for my parents — because I would be rude, grumpy, peevish and extremely isolated. During these years would like to talk to no one except grandpa and my books. He gave me a diary during the class-ix th vacation and said “if you feel angry then open this diary and write your thoughts” — that’s how I officially began to learn to write. Recently, while relocating from our old residence, my brother found this diary from some dump yard.  He laughed when he told me over phone, “I never knew you hated me, mom and dad so much” 😛 .  I would spend my time day dreaming with a book, or picking up jasmine flowers from the garden and making garlands, or listening to songs in a walkman presented to me on my birthday. Moms did not allow us to go out anywhere during our visits to our village and movement completely got restricted.

Then came college and university years, defiance, fun, break-away, get-to-together and reunions marked the phase. Those were the years when everyone was in love — my best friends had already found their soulmates about whom I got to hear for nights when they returned during vacations. Amazing it was to listen about them, my own love story never taking off because I was too peevish and too ugly. This was the time when my writing talents best came to use — I was writing love letters. No seriously, love letters for everyone except myself 😦 . The good part of the vacation story is that fortunately all of them are now married to those poor souls at whom the letters were aimed 😛 . As husbands, by now they know who the real writer was of the letters that has got them their disasters . The post-B.tech and post-B.A. vacations were busy when all my close friends got married off, or moved to different countries, and I was left alone. Distance does affect friendships and priorities also change. After many years  spoke to my closest friend a year back, and she said: “ Your letter got me married and now our kid is named after you….”. Her husband said “we keep on calling your name always because your friend wouldn’t like any name except yours for the baby”.

In the university, vacations meant crying and being forced to go back home. A bunch of friends coming to the station to drop you off and crying holding the train railings as if Indian Railways would stop with their tears :p .

Then, came IIT when summers become the busiest time of the year — studies, seminars, conferences, and dinners at Pizza Hut or Mocha. Vacations are the times when we spend the major time in lab, wear that distressed, depressed look of the researcher, or spend hours by Powai lake philosophizing on the nature of life and death. This used to be the time when you thought of nothing except seminar reports and guide 🙂 .

Time has passed….The meanings have changed…..These days children play on their PS-3 or computer, and spend time in malls buying their own clothes. We knew nothing of these luxuries. Yesterday I was signing the room allotment lists, and vacation leave forms — felt strange. There is one art which I have not tried to learn during summers — cooking. Let’s see if I can manage learning some special dishes these vacations.

Next week, let us meet in the vacation weekend. Do share your experiences and pranks on summer vacations. Till then,

Put away the books, we’re out of school
The weather’s warm but we’ll play it cool
We’re on vacation, havin’ lots of fun
V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N in the summer sun

We’re gonna grab a bite at the pizza stand
Write love letters in the sand
We’re on vacation and the world is ours
V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N under summer stars. (“Vacation” by Connie Francis)