Sudha Murty is 72, but when she recounts her childhood memories of summer vacations spent in her grandparent's village in Karnataka, it is as if she is a child again...bonding with cousins, playing traditional games, lazing around in the heavy heat and overdosing on her favourite mangoes.
The Village Life
"It was an annual ritual for us to visit our grandparents' house in a sleepy village in Karnataka during my summer vacations. I remember days tinged with the yellow glow of the harsh summer sun when the air was thick with the sweet aroma of mangoes.
Thirteen of us cousins&mdashLata, Ranganath, Lalita, and many others&mdashwould sit together, playing games and telling each other stories all day. The scorching heat forced us to begin our days early in the village. There was no electricity or tap water then. We would wake up at dawn and head to the nearby stepwell for our morning bath. Given the large size of our family, we would fetch pots of drinking water from the well.
With ennui looming large, we turned everything into a game we competed to see who could fetch the most pots of water from the well in one go. I recall someone stacking five pots on their head once, someone even managed to carry 10"
Due to the intense heat, the villagers would complete all their tasks, such as visiting the market for daily essentials and harvesting vegetables by 8 am. Living in the village taught us to adapt to nature without relying on modern conveniences like air conditioning and mobile phones.
Once indoors, my cousins and I would spend long hours playing games like antakshari, reading books, assisting the elders with chores, and relishing juicy mangoes. We had 35 mango trees, and I loved climbing them. Even though we had hired someone to climb and pick the mangoes, I preferred to do it myself. Afterwards, we would devour buckets and buckets of these summer treats. I recall I ate around 30 mangoes in a competition with my cousins
There was always some activity that kept us engaged. My aunts would prepare papads on the terrace, and the children were responsible for shooing crows or other birds away. Our small army of 13 was determined to defend the papads from the crows' attacks. We took the task seriously as if we were waging war against all the birds in the world.
Lunch at my grandparent's home was a modest affair, with jawar roti, rice, vegetables, papad, and mango juice on the menu. Mango juice was a staple we had it daily with our lunch. In the somnolent afternoons, when it was too hot to do anything else, I would retreat into the world of books. I was susceptible to the heat and preferred staying indoors and immersing myself in books. I adored stories."
My cousins and I only ventured out around 5 pm when the sweltering sun began to wane. We would rush out after this confinement of a few hours and start playing some invented games. You wouldn't believe the games we played in those days. We balanced stones, played games with dice, and even held garland-making competitions. But I liked the mango peeling competition the most We would see who could peel a mango with the least skin on the fruit.
In the evenings, it was time for history lessons. Our grandfather, a schoolteacher, would enlighten us about the history of Karnataka and India. Following this, he would conduct a one-hour pooja, for which we would assist our grandmother in cleaning the brass utensils. Occasionally, we would also have tent movie nights in our village, where we spent hours viewing Tamil classics like 'Dasavatharam.'
At 7 pm sharp, the lantern would be lit, and we would eat dinner early so that we, cousins, could spend more time together on the verandah reading and sharing stories. At bedtime, we used to argue over who would get to sleep next to our grandmother. That's how our day came to an end.
In Search Of Simple Pleasures
Summers were a busy time with weddings in the family. We had several relatives getting married every summer, and since my father had five sisters and four brothers, we had many people in the family. Wedding celebrations would last a week, and the large extended family would often arrive early to help with the preparations. In those days, all the wedding arrangements, from cooking the food to hosting the ceremony, were done at home, unlike modern weddings in commercial venues. Many of those cousins who are part of my cherished memories have passed away, and the mangoes longer taste the same.
My granddaughters are in London, where summers are green and filled with activities such as horse riding, water sports, cycling, and other modern pastimes. Our family has become smaller, and there are fewer weddings. Growing up with my cousins taught me that summer holidays don't have to be spent travelling abroad but can be enjoyed with simple pleasures, sharing, learning new things, and spending time with family.
The end of the summer vacation and the advent of the monsoons was always bittersweet. We could no longer enjoy the sweet taste of mangoes and had to leave for our respective homes. It was always a sorrowful event for us we would hold on to each other and weep as we parted ways. As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Murthy if she misses the bygone days. She replied, "Yes, I do. 'Wo kagaz ki kashti, Wo barish ka pani...'&mdasha beautiful metaphor for the fragility of life's joys and a reminder to cherish the moments we have with those we love.