It’s a lazy summer afternoon. School vacations have set in. My daughter is so immersed in her IPod that I have to go and tap at her shoulder to make my presence known to her. I am fortunate to have a well ventilated home, which even on the hottest day remains tolerable with a ceiling fan and the beautiful sea breeze flowing through it.
Such afternoons always take me back to my summer vacations when I was in school. With no cable TV and no other such electronic devices as available nowadays, outdoors was our only option. We did have a television at home, but as my father had very strict rules about what we watched, and when we watched, all of us three siblings preferred not to watch TV, as it involved a lot of red tape. We grew up in an apartment complex with eighteen apartments, and almost two dozen children. There was no dearth of company in my growing years. When I look around today and see the scores of ‘summer activity clubs’ that spring up, come the month of March, I realise how lucky our generation was to spend our summers the way we did. My Ma never stressed about what to do with three active children in the summer holidays. She knew we would be outdoors most of the time. Neither did she stress about what to feed us. We were more than happy to survive on mangoes! Baba brought home crates of mangoes throughout the summer, and the house used to be infused with the heady fragrance of beautiful Alphonsos.
We had vacations from mid April to mid June,and one of the first things we did the day our vacations began was to buy a can of white paint to freshen the borders of the badminton court within our society walls. Next was collecting funds for buying the net and shuttlecocks. That took care of the early mornings when we all were up and about by 6 am for a game of badminton. Those who waited patiently for their turn on the court, wiled away their time by cycling around the complex. The days had a very simple routine. Play badminton. Go home for breakfast. Again gather for some outdoor games. Go home for lunch. Spend the afternoon in some patch of the complex that did not have the sun beating down. Go home for a snack. Again out till sundown. We used to get so tired that by the end of the day all we wanted was a bath, dinner and bed. And we did this for two whole months.
Games were interspersed with a dedicated and serious rehearsal for a show, which we put up at the end of each summer. This show was generally a series of recycled song and drama sequences, where only the actors and names of the characters changed. But I don’t recall anyone ever complaining. Our audience was our parents and we always managed to extract an enthusiastic applause from them. Everything, from the props, stage backdrops to the snacks that followed were hand and home made. I don’t think it ever struck us that there was any other alternative.
Visiting cousins were adopted and integrated into the regular brood without much ado. We made friends,whom we saw only every summer when they visited their relatives who resided in our building. When I look back, I think all we knew about these summer visitors were their names and age, and which apartment they were visiting. Nothing else was asked. Life was simple to say the least. And yet those days left behind the most lasting memories. While I marvel at the technology my children have at their fingertips, I don’t really envy them. I wouldn’t trade my childhood summers for anything in the world.