Isn’t it amazing how every year, when summer comes on, people will point it out to you? They’ll hold their collar and shake it vigorously and say, ‘Yaar, it’s so hot, na?’
Like they’re just back from a 12 year vacation to Pluto and realised how hot it is in India in summers. It is summer, guys. It will be hot. Get over it.
I got over it long ago. Years ago, in my childhood, Bhubaneswar was notorious for ‘Sunstrokes’. It was the first time I had come across the word – sunstroke. I imagined that the sun would smile down warmly on a person, there would be a blinding flash of light, and the man would drop dead right there. Later, I learnt it is a heartbreakingly painful process. The person would first dehydrate, and then die as every drop of water in his body dried up, minute by painful minute.
But all of this wouldn’t affect me one bit. For I had just learnt how to ride a bicycle.
There are very few joys in the world compared to learning to ride a bicycle for the first time.
There is a sense of freedom, of joy, your bicycle being your horse, and of the world being your playground. There are no limits to your enthusiasm, your imagination, and the heat of the summer is but another obstacle – to be trampled upon and left behind.
And since I had just learnt the fine art of riding a cycle, I didn’t want to step inside the house. And so I was given a simple solution – Tie a wet cloth around your head if you want to step out.
The intention was to keep my head cool, wet and dehydrated. But what really happened was a combination of many things:
a) Children and elders alike sniggered when I crossed them, a wet towel wrapped around my head.
b) The cloth began to smell damp and funny after a point.
c) The dampness around my head would result in me feeling dizzy after half an hour, and I would return to the house.
Again, this was a time when there was no internet, no cable television (since I was being honed to become a good citizen of the country), no cricket happening.
And all through the summer, I felt a strange thirst.For liquids. An insatiable need for liquid to run down my parched throat.
My hunt led me on to the roads in the afternoons. And the options in front of me were not very vast. And yet, I didn’t shy away from trying them all out.
Firstly, there was Sugarcane Juice.
Back then, it was just two rupees, and it wasn’t very difficult to flick two rupees lying around the house and run out to the shop. It was cool, sweet, and affordable.
But then, it had its problems too. You can’t have more than two glasses of it. If you did, you’d have a sticky, sweet feeling. Like your lips have been chapped together by a weak adhesive gum.
And then there were the health issues involved with sugarcane juice. Friends telling you that they’d seen a man keeping his sugarcane in a ditch to make it fresh and juicy. And another friend telling you that his cousin had died of food poisoning from sugarcane juice. Also, after two glasses, your body craved some water, or some salt, or chillies.
And so, I struck sugarcane juice out of my list.
Then came the Tender Coconut.
It is cool, and healthy. No one had any horrific tales to narrate about tender coconuts. They were just tender nuts that had a sweet juice inside of them. Problem is, I wasn’t the only one who had realised this truth. And this resulted in the price of tender coconuts rising not so tenderly.
It was five rupees when I was a child. And then in a few years, it was ten rupees. And then, it was fifteen rupees, and then twenty, twenty-five, and thirty. And me with my money nicked off from home, would never be able to catch up in that race.
Golas, I have never been fond of.
Firstly, I had only seen it in films and TVs. Of people sucking on golas and chuskis and having fun. In Orissa, we never really had golas for a long time. And when they finally arrived, what a massive colourful disappointment they turned out to be!
It was the same chapped feeling between my lips that I felt after having one. Also, it took about 20 minutes to finish one. Any quicker, and your jaws felt like a yeti had smooched you and run its tongue inside your mouth.
Golas didn’t do it for me.
Cool drinks, I was never fond of. Of course, I got enamored by ads and wanted to have a wonderful, bubbly, soft drink in the middle of summer – just like they showed me in those ads.
But every soft drink in the world is the same for me. I enjoy the first two sips and the rest of it seems like a punishment.
Ice creams never worked for me in any which way. Whether it was the Chocobar, or the cups, or the Cassatas, or the expensive ones. None of them did anything for me. All I felt at the end of the ice cream was sticky hands, a sticky mouth, and a sweet aftertaste in my mouth that wouldn’t go even if I ate a live chicken.
Which left me with the only other option. Buttermilk.
Buttermilk is one of those things in life you cannot have any complaint against. It could be made thick or thin, spicy or sweet. It is healthy, inexpensive, and easy to prepare.
Needless to say, I was addicted.
But then, I realised that the dynamics of buttermilk-making had a larger role to play. It wasn’t as simple as taking buttermilk, adding spices, chillies, coriander leaves, some ginger, some black salt, and mixing them all together.
I realised that different places have different ways of preparing buttermilk. At home, they’re always overdoing it. They make it thicker than it should be, just to pander to some idea of ‘healthy, wholesome home food’, killing the end result in the process. And like mother’s hamburgers, mothers’ buttermilk is never the real thing.
Others would add too much salt, too less chillies, or not black salt at all. Temples would keep it satwik, adding no ginger at all. There were ‘jalachhatras’ – free water/buttermilk pots that were kept in the open, as a form of social service. These guys made the buttermilk too thin, in an obvious attempt to save money while saving lives.
When I was posted at the KIIT International School in Bhubaneswar, there was a stall that gave out free water and buttermilk. Even if it was light, it was delicious. And I shamelessly hung out there, having 5-6 glasses a day.
And yet, it wasn’t perfect for me. It was a little light, and come summer, I would begin my hunting for the perfect buttermilk.
Everywhere I went, I looked for the perfect buttermilk.
And everytime, I was disappointed. Vijaya, the state-run milk company in Andhra Pradesh wasn’t very good. It was too thick, as if the state was doing its bit to prove the purity of their cows and their milk.
Omfed, the state-run milk federation in Orissa skimmed over the chilly and ginger, making for a drink that seemed hollow in its taste. And I went from this place to that, looking for the perfect buttermilk every summer.
And then, a few weeks ago, I found it.
It’s a private company that has its operations in Andhra Pradesh. Like all other milk companies, its logo has a smiling cow as its logo.
It cost 6 rupees, and when I slit the packet open, I realised that my hunt for the perfect buttermilk was over.
Inside, stirred up in the perfect way humanly possible, was buttermilk, salt, chilly, coriander leaves, and black salt. It was so perfect that I didn’t even have to shake well before use.
And that is how I spend my summers these days. Hunting for Jersey Buttermilk in every shop, store, or mall that I come across.
And summer is hot, and sticky and sweaty and all of that.
But what do I care? I am addicted, and my fix costs me 6 rupees.