O dashehari aam, how I miss thee!

I like summers in Indiana, like a thousand times better than winters in Indiana. I actually dread winters here – the sub-zero chills, the driving on ice and snow, make me want to go hide somewhere warm. Summers are way better. Never too hot and almost perfect.

This summer though has been a little warmer than usual. Just recently Indianapolis had a record high temp day (about 110 F/41 C). You actually sweat when walking outside. I have rarely seen that happen here before. Most people are complaining about the heat. But in a crazy, convoluted way, I like the ‘bad weather’ – because it reminds me of home.

It is amazing how the smallest thing – a smell, a taste, a feeling – can take you to a time and place completely different from the present. A couple of days ago, I went for my daily 10 minute walk in the afternoon. It was hot outside, and the cold air from the air-conditioning hit me as soon as I entered the building. That immediately reminded me of coming back from school in the summers. My brother and I used to ride our bicycles to school ever since I was 11 or 12 and he was 9 or 10 years old. We used to be drenched in sweat when we came back home in the afternoon and immediately ran to the air-cooler to claim the place directly in front of the cooler (the kind that you fill with water so that the fan throws you cool air – middle class people in India did not have air conditioners back then). Mom usually had cold neembu-paani ready for us, which is a drink similar to lemonade made with water instead of soda. It has been 20 years since then, but the tastes and the sensations are as clear in my mind as yesterday.

I say summers here are ‘almost perfect’ because there are two of my favorite things missing – monsoons and dashehari aam (mango). Monsoons brought the much needed respite from the heat. We kids went crazy whenever it rained. We used to go out or on the terrace and play in the pouring rain and the puddles for hours. No schedules, no special swimming costumes, no tickets were needed for that pure, unadulterated fun.

And then there was Dashehari aam. For those of you who don’t know, Aam is the Hindi name for mango and Dashehari is a variety of mango very popular in the northern part of India. There are few other things in the world quite like peeling a whole dashehari aam using just your teeth and then digging into the cold deliciousness till there is no more left except the stone. During summer vacations, we would hunt the refrigerator multiple times in a day for seconds, thirds and fourths. Summer is not really summer without the heavenly taste of dashehari aam. Any other varieties just don’t cut it for me.

I could go on and on about how happy my childhood was, how uncomplicated the life back then and how things are just not the same anymore (a classic sign of getting old). A couple of other things are worth mentioning about the summers of my childhood – sitting down on the cold floor at my Daddy’s home (my father’s older brother, we call him Daddy) and eating the really spicy and yummy food Mummy (Aunt) made. Visiting and staying at my Beeji and Bauji’s (maternal grandparents) home during summer vacations where an extended family of anywhere between 10-20 people ate dinner together in the veranda everyday, and followed it up with bucket-ful of mangoes. The countless trips to the comic book store close to their house to rent comic books that I finished reading so quickly and voraciously that no one believed I was actually reading them (of course all expenses covered by grandpa). Sleeping on the terrace of our home at night (that was the only way to beat the heat when it got so hot and stuffy inside), counting stars, making shapes, making up all kinds of stories about the stars and the universe along with my brother.

What would I give to take a trip back to that time and place, to eat one more dashehari aam? Quite a lot, I would say, quite a lot.

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