From literature to business, it’s been a culture shift but I am enjoying every minute of it. I survive on my sense of humour. Love Wodehouse, westerns, crime thrillers, and a good laugh with family and friends.

Mythili Rajkumar

Sweet summer sweat

| Updated on May 07, 2013

Mythili Rajkumar recalls a time when Chennai summers meant much more than power cuts and water shortages.

“Thank God, I’m off shortly,” gasped a friend who couldn’t bear the heat of Chennai the other day. Her remark triggered a rush of memories about childhood and summer holidays.

Summer always spelt magic. It was the time of year when schools closed their gates with a firm click and when loved ones – hordes of cousins, uncles and aunts – descended en masse on the spacious family home from all over India.

Dawn would see us youngsters running wild along the garden paths inhaling the strong scent of budding jasmine and counting the mangoes hanging low. Come noon, we would be romping in the sun, disobeying orders, which gave a delicious thrill (no screeching ads then about skin allergies or sun screens). As the afternoon wore off, we would gather around the youngest aunt for our daily helping of creamy curd rice – eaten with Paagu manga (sweet) or hot avakkai pickle.

The tinkle of bells woke up the household around four – it was the ice-cream vendor who gave us our daily fix.

Twilight meant gathering at the ‘chinna vaasal’ (which could easily seat 20 adults!), chanting slokas while the night queen bloomed and spread fragrance. Nights were spent on the terrace, gazing at the twinkling stars, sharing stories of the day and falling asleep in the middle of a word.

We didn’t have today’s gadgets then – which meant we depended almost solely on ourselves for entertainment, and the radio. On days it rained, out would come the ‘Sungu set’, paramapatham and pallankuzhi. If we tired of these, there was always the hide and seek played indoors which drove the elders mad, or the game of ‘paandi’ under the rain-sheltered awning.

The radio blared a medley of languages and music. A particular favourite was the Binaca Geet Mala. Our indulgent grandfather, a brilliant lawyer, would unerringly identify Lata Mangeshkar’s voice every time it was played, though she was always ‘Lala Manghara’ to him.

Fifteen actors available at any given time? We staged plays. We turned the ‘Periya Vaasal’ into an impromptu auditorium. The captive audience was, of course, long-suffering parents, grand-parents and all the residents of the street.

There was also the occasional game of cricket. For our service of cutting mango into slices, spiced with salt and chilli powder, our brothers allowed us to play with them for one or two overs.

Squeezed into this hectic schedule were music class, trips to exhibitions, parks, the movies, with night shows too, and pavement shopping.

Star-struck

It was during one such summer that we decided to meet then upcoming star Kamal Hassan. Since he lived just around the corner, it seemed easy. In a haze, the plan unfolded: We got his telephone number, his secretary gave us an appointment and off we went, painted and powdered, at 6 a.m. Meeting us after a considerable wait, if Kamal Haasan was surprised to see five very young, naive girls, he didn't let it show. Triumphantly we bore home our autograph notebooks, only to have hell break over our heads. After uncles and aunts expressed horror at our visiting a film actor's house, the anti-climax came from a calm grandmother: "Why didn't you tell me? I know the family elders and could have taken you to visit him myself."

Wolf woes

Once, we were staging 'Little Red Riding Hood.' Suddenly, the Big Bad Wolf went down on all fours -- not to grab Little Red Riding Hood but to search for specs that had vanished into her voluminous costume. It was a sight to see -- Little Red Riding Hood piteously prompting the wolf that she was right there but the wolf showing no interest in the plot. Our audience rose to the occasion -- holding back grins and waiting for things to settle down.

All flashbacks, however nostalgic, must end. Summer in Chennai now means searing hot days, power cuts and water shortage. But the magic of those days endures. Even now, when we cousins meet, it isn’t long before one of us says, "I know what you did that summer."

Published on May 07, 2013

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