Listen to this Story
Narrated by Anjan Prakash
A Summer WITH The Season
1. A Summer
I stood at the regular roadside vegetable and fruit market. Three tiny pieces of clothing on my body – my panty, my bra and my thin cotton dress, clung to my skin with the weight of perspiration. I noticed, this was the weight on everybody else at the market, reminding me of an installation I had experienced at the Kochi Biennale in Fort Kochi, India, where an artist had gathered sweat from different bodies of stone breakers, condensed and preserved it on several stone surfaces, and the experience involved us smelling this variety of sweat. And smell those `types’ of sweat, I did. After all, curiosity once stoked, always takes the better of me. It had given me those yuck-induced goose-bumps, and it took me nearly an hour to shake those odours off my nose and memory, even as I had appreciated the cleverness and purpose of the artist.
Standing in our local market, this midmorning in the last week of March, felt like being in a live interactive olfactory installation with a variety of tropical body odours, continuously overwhelming my nostrils.
A slightly-pleasant weather with a cool breeze through the day is called Winter here in Goa, which starts in November and ends before the last week of February. By the last week of March, Summer begins to make her presence felt, and in-between the two, for about three weeks, we wish to believe we have had a mild brush with Spring, which, if not for the colourful variety of flowers on several trees, nobody from outside of Goa would believe this is our Spring. We move from Sweat to Wet for the remaining nine months of the year starting end March, and so I was officially standing in the market, welcoming the almighty intense Summer, as our affair with Spring is so short-lived.
My eyes moved from one wilted basket of vegetables to another, across all vendors. If vegetables had limbs, they would be hiding under the baskets. I wish they did. Spinach, Fenugreek, Coriander, Mint, Dill, in fact all greens looked like they had returned from war, beaten and bruised, hanging onto life. French beans looked anything but French, cucumbers shrivelled on both sides, tomatoes more yellow than red, broccoli fading into brown and light brown, and the poor lemons, they were half in size and green in colour, and together they all appeared to have lost their personal make-up kits during Spring. I felt if vegetables were allowed holidays, they would have chosen Summer to be away from the Goan markets.
Among the fruits, I pitied the bananas. They looked like they could do with some glucose shots themselves, black and overripe, and hanging on those threads, like a rock climber to the rocks, without a bottle of water, or a shade in sight.
Summer in this market wore a costume of mourning. Dull, shapeless, stale, uninviting and lifeless.
Wiping my forehead off the sweat for the tenth or the twelfth time within an hour, I decided to save a few vegetables and many bananas from that day on, taking them home to my refrigerator. Maybe some of them could meet a dignified death by becoming a part of some South Indian dishes, lovingly prepared, and the bananas, as a smoothie. Each time I have shopped since then, I feel like I am the Mother Teresa of vegetables and fruits of this market, carrying the needy into the comfort of shade and fridge, before they pass on.
Now, this doesn’t seem like the whole truth about Summer, and neither can I claim a Mother Teresa-hood so easily, can I?
2. WITH The Season
Shopping bags in the car, I left the local market, to head back to our village. Five kilometres, and into Moira, the village where we live in Goa, a gentle breeze entered the car window, and I could slowly feel my undergarments getting unstuck from the skin, some air touching them.
The smell of freshly cut grass from the local farms and gardens, and the fragrance of the abundant Rangoon Creepers, a woody climbing liana which opens at dusk in colours of white and pink maturing into red during spring-summer filled the air. The Red Cotton Silk tree naked of leaves and filled with scarlet coloured flowers; another tree called the `Flame of the Forest’ as their orange-scarlet flowers look like fire when they are in full bloom; and then the utterly beautiful Cannonball tree which flowers profusely as racemes, until the entire trunk is covered with it, peppered the route home. Such sights to behold, offered me an insight – Summer wears a totally different costume, few minutes into Moira.
Upon reaching home, I stuffed the vegetables into the fridge, gulped down a glass of lemonade, and since this Summer costume had aroused my curiosity sufficiently, I decided to pay her more attention this afternoon, especially after a heart-wrenching trip to the vegetable market.
Two mango trees surrounded our home filled with raw green mangoes hanging like bulbs, and I have to admit that each time I pass such trees, the itch to steal a few is very high. My mother used to say about her childhood, `nothing tasted better than stolen mangoes from neighbouring farms, with the neighbours yelling even as we children made away with a few’. I was envious of the three noisy plum-headed parakeets, and a pair of black-hooded orioles, in the peak afternoon sun, creating a ruckus, enjoying the mangoes. Their play and feeding seem to go hand and hand, as they chased each other around. Soon, a drumming sound on the jackfruit tree in our neighbour’s garden alerted me. I knew this was the Black-rumped Flameback Woodpecker producing drum rolls, and over the last couple of days had moved from the Coconut tree, to the Chikoo tree, and now the Jackfruit tree. The female wasn’t too far. I remembered that at the intersection of the very next branch was the nest of the Jungle Mynah. I had seen this pair, little tuft of hair on the forehead, blackish-grey plumage and with orange-yellow beaks, meticulously put their nest together over the last few weeks, and it didn’t surprise me in the least bit when immediately one of the Mynahs flew out of the nest and sat right near the woodpecker and broke into a call, making their territory very clear, until the woodpeckers flew to the next tree to court with their drum rolls.
This costume of Summer in Moira is rich and complex in fragrance and filled with a wide spectrum of lush colours, I observed. It was lunch time, and my taste buds drew me into a meal of crunchy green salad, leaves plucked straight out of our garden, and a light home cooked meal, an apt ritual before the afternoon siesta. Where there is intense Summer, there is intense slumber. An hour could have passed, and the noisy repetitive calls of Indian palm squirrels jolted me out of my slumber. Mating was in the air, as the testes of the male squirrel had swollen and with each call, their tail swung up and down. Just then two Brahmani Kites involved in a flying game of seduction, skilfully soared between the tall trees, back and forth, back and forth for over ten minutes, until they disappeared. I concluded that must be sufficient foreplay.
This natural version of Summer, had begun to show me something, and even as I was musing on this, a medley of calls in the backyard, got me climbing to our rooftop, to peep into the jungle behind our home, and a mixed hunting party was in process, also known as Mixed Species Foraging. Four Red-whiskered bulbuls, two red-vented bulbuls, two Asian Paradise Flycatchers, a Vigor’s Sunbird; a Rufus Treepie, a Tickell’s blue flycatcher, were engaged in a foraging strategy. Species specialised in feeding at different levels – ground feeders; canopy feeders; shrub level feeders; move together in one direction flushing out insects. Through such cooperative approach, they gain access to more food with many eyes to spot the prey; drive out more insects from hiding; avoid predation as they look out for each other; and of course conserve energy. Isn’t Summer just the right time for cooperation, I wondered.
Soon the sun began to disappear behind my `grandpa, grandma’ trees. From when we moved into this house, I felt the energy of Elders, and their blessings oozing out from these two really tall and old trees in our neighbouring plot. Four scarlet minivets, males red and females yellow, caught the last rays of the setting sun, lighting up like lamps on top of the tamarind tree, as dusk began to fill the day. The thick air of the day, began to relax as it bade goodbye to the sun, and for some time as darkness poured into dusk, there was a stillness, except for an occasional distant call of birds making their way home. Trees turned to silhouettes, and a jungle-scape enveloped our home.
I decided to wait for the baton exchange, from the pop music of the day with birds and squirrels, to the orchestra of the night by crickets and cicadas of summer. Soon planet Venus showed up on the East horizon, and I decided to climb down from the rooftop. As I took my evening shower, a persistent loud chirping sound faded into the nightscape that I recognised as Crickets, interspersed with the pulsing notes of Katydids, and then the relentless shrill of Cicadas, just fused together into the night orchestra, that would eventually put us to sleep. The summer nights held so much to hear, as the day held so much to see.
As Gordon Hempton, the acoustic ecologist says, `Silence isn’t the absence of something, but the presence of everything’.
I call my home the best sound studio. Not a sound studio that is sound proof, but a sound studio where we wake up to bird songs, squirrels and occasional whoops and screeches by monkeys, and sleep to the orchestra of insects, a 360 degree surround sound, and all the layers of communication in-between.
3. A Summer WITH The Season
In the more-than-human world, nature wears her blueprint on her sleeve. The colours, the textures, the fragrance, the sounds, the nourishment within and without, and the interaction of all these elements happens locally, in a highly attuned manner and in active participation with the whole. Summer in nature is a time of breeding and feeding due to the abundant sun energy, which is what life around me seems to be busy optimising. High amount of photosynthesis means, great nutrition for plant life, and in turn for us all. Making the most of the mornings, and late afternoons, life seems to be responding to the season with a sense of playfulness and purpose fused together, and I can’t seem to separate the two in all that I noticed.
Before wrapping for the night, I put the following into my journal:
I wonder what would it look like to design our life attuned to the seasons in Goa? Not with just a symbolic summer break given in schools, but by looking at it from a behavioural perspective, individually and collectively? How can our vegetable markets and the vendors manage heat during peak summer, including their vegetables, even as they are serving the community? The more we are outsourcing our food, the more food is part of a monopoly, and the more our food travels, shrivels, wilts and withers. Whereas life around me is celebrating with fresh mangoes and jackfruits off the trees they are grown from. What would Summer WITH the season look like?
With that, I closed my eyes, reliving the Summer’s natural costume that is intense, bright, beautiful, nourishing and energising. This is her true Self, and as a biological species, the responsibility is mine to check if I have attuned, adapted and evolved to create conditions to celebrate her, or forced an environment of mourning.
I had extended the hand of Celebrate to Summer.
Thank you for reading.🌻
I would love to hear what this essay about Summer brought up for you.
How do you see nature celebrating Summer around you? How are you joining in?
And if you are experiencing a different season right now, how are you seeing that unfold around you, and celebrating it?
Have a beautiful Summerful weekend