“Now that Deepayan’s school is closed for summer vacations, why don’t you all come down here.” It was my brother in law at the other end of the call.
“If Durga is not free, at least they can send Deepayan here to spend a couple of weeks.” I could overhear his wife’s loud prompting.
“I heard what bhabiji said. We will discuss and call you back”, I said and hung up.
It was this invitation that brought back memories of long summer vacations of my childhood spent in my maternal grandparents’ home. It also prompted me to suggest the topic on Indispire.
Till I was 8 or 9, summer vacations meant my granpa’s palce in Narayanapur, a tiny village four kilometers away from my own village. Usually we walked the distance, through rice fields, mango groves, and along a river avoiding the lengthier motor-able road.
Narayanapur is a small village consisting of about a dozen houses. My grandpa’s was the corner house towards the western end of the village. It had extensive coconut, banana mango, palm and other plantations covering the back and the west side the house. In front, across the main village road, was his lemon estate. My morning and evening routine consisted of assisting my uncles in taking care of the plantations. There was a thatched mud walled house in the lemon estate that served as the place for my noon time siesta and reading room. Other pastimes included swimming in the pond adjacent to the village, exploring the numerous ancient temples surrounding the village and occasionally, playing with the other village boys.
My grandmother specialized in preparing various types of traditional sweets. Back in those days my favourite sweet item was ‘Arisha Pitha’. Whenever she sensed that the charm of grandpa’s place was wearing off she would say, “Look I have already made arrangement for your favourite sweet dish. Tomorrow you will have it”. Another incentive to detain me was to inform me that the Mahaprasad from the local Narayana Temple was the lunch menu for the next day. This Mahaprasad, which was home delivered in a huge thali, consisted of varieties of rice, dal, curry and sweets – twenty to twenty five items in all. It was sufficient for seven to eight adults. Of course you have to pre-book, sometimes weeks in advance. Now imagine, home delivery of lunch for the entire family including guests in a remote village that too against a very nominal donation. Moreover, this system is as old as the twelfth century temple.
Grandma also made varieties of pickles from fruits and vegetables which were collected from the plants grown around the house. It was so much confusion to choose the pickles of the day out of so many varieties – carambola, bitter gourd, amla, bamboo shoot, mango, lemon and so on. Again some of them had sweet as well as pungent versions.
After spending two to three weeks or sometimes a whole month, I would be back to my native village. The summer vacation was far from being over. In my village the days would be spent among friends with the usual sports, games and a little badmashi. Our play ground was not restricted to the village street, our houses or the backyards. It extended to the two huge mango groves, three ponds, two mountains and a river surrounding the village.
The two mango groves did not belong to any particular owner as a whole. Each tree or a group of trees had a different owner. So, the access to the mangoes was restricted but not to the grove or the trees. Because of this, while the security guards had a very tough time, it provided many avenues of fun to us.
During those long summer days a personal connection was established with each of those hundreds of trees. Each mango tree had a character of its own. If one gave out mangoes that tasted sweet only when raw, another was useful only as pickle, and yet another one must be left alone till its fruits fell down ripe. A group of two to three mango trees in a corner of the grove provided such thick foliage, not a single ray of the sun could make it to the ground thus, making it ideal to host the marathon card games for the village idlers.
I went to my native village a couple of years back. When I visited the mango groves, I was almost in tears. The majority of the trees were either uprooted or branch-less. The Cyclone Phailin that stuck Odisha in October 2013 did all the damage it could do so that this vibrant childhood playground lived only in our memories.