Summer in India is a season of extremes. As a kid I used to think that during the summer season, the Sun God Ra (got this idea from history lessons on ancient Egypt) looses his temper and becomes really angry with us. That is why he shines down on us so ferociously and relentlessly. The angry sun scorches the earth, wilts the plants, dries up the rivers and the ponds, evaporates every trace of water from the land, bakes humans and animals alive and makes them feel thirsty, always. To the young me, the sun seemed a rather cruel God. Sometimes I used to think that he should be sent for anger management classes, other times I used to ponder on how his God-ship could be cancelled. Musings of an over imaginative child! Even to this day this childhood image has stuck to my mind.Whenever I think of summer in India, the image of an extremely angry sun flashes in my mind.
Summer starts from early March, by April temperature shoots up to 40s and sometimes beyond (Celsius), then peaks in July before the monsoons hit the Indian subcontinent. While it rains its lovely, but the moment it stops raining, the heat comes back. Even though the rains bring down the temperatures slightly, humidity is added to the heat. This goes on till September/October when an autumn struggles to put a stop to the rains and bring down the temperatures.
This year the summer has been dreadful back home.Well it is every year, but Indians like to think that each summer they experience is the worst so far! Newspapers add fuel to the fire by touting every summer to be the worst one in last 30 years or so. Every time I call my folks they complain about the soaring temperatures, the heat and the humidity. Sometimes it rains for a brief respite and then back the temperature climbs into the 40s (degree Celsius). You must be wondering why sitting in London, am I talking about summer in India? It is because this Indian's heart is firmly lodged back home. Not that I am not thankful for missing the stifling heat which drains away all your energy and makes you want to sleep and have chilled drinks all the time. But I have too many fond memories of summer. So I just cannot hate summer time back home. And like we all know the heart grows fonder with distance. Mine certainly does.
|Summers meant long school holidays and playing to our hearts' content!|
Also summer in India has some redeeming points as well. Apart from the oppressive heat and relentless sun, summer also means fruits-- all sorts. Ah the lovely juicy mangoes, first unripe and then ripe, one variety after another hitting the markets as the season progresses or if you are lucky growing in your orchard. Then there are the lychees for a brief couple of weeks (the best ones I have had came from my father's colleague's tea garden in Assam and they are nothing like the tinned ones we get here in the UK), the huge jack fruits, the strong smell and love it or hate it camps, the glorious yellow flesh....there are so many fruits and I do not even know the English names for most of them, nor do I have the patience to search them out. I guess it is nature's way of compensating for the horrible weather.
The summer flowers, sadly the only English name I know is jasmine. Mostly these flowers are white in colour and have heavenly smell. There are loads of varieties. Each house has/had some potted flower plants in their terrace (in India most roof tops are flat with access to it by stairs and used for various purposes by families, including terrace gardens). Once the sun goes down by early evening (6.30 at the most in Kolkata which is in the East) a light breeze used to blow in from the Hoogly riven a few kilometres away, carrying in the smell of these sweet flowers. Families would gather in their roof tops, laughter and cheer could be heard in the early evening, the people thankful for the soothing balm of the darkness. Of course I am painting a picture of Kolkata of some decades back. The Kolkata of my childhood memories.
|Windows shuttered and curtains drawn for post lunch siesta |
during the hot summer months!
Then the holidays, summers meant long school holidays. There used to be holiday homework like sixty pages of handwriting practice (a page a day I guess for the two month holidays, but no one, maybe except my conscientious brother did it that way, the rest of us all sat down to it the evening before the schools re-opened and somehow filled the pages with scribbles, some handwriting practice I tell you). Cousins would gather and since it was too hot too chase kids, we would be mostly left to our own devices. The fun we had, the terrace was our main play ground and since elders mostly did not venture up there in the heat, we played to our hearts' content. We never got heat stroke, but when I look back I think we must have been mad to be out in that scorching sun. But one time we were not permitted up on the terrace was post lunch when the sun rays were/are the strongest. Post lunch was siesta time. No amount of arguments, pleadings, reasoning worked with any of the adults. Post lunch windows would be shuttered and heavy curtains would be drawn to keep out the sun and everyone would be ready for a nap. This nap lasted for a couple of hours and I remember as kids we hated going to sleep in the middle of day. We felt it was wasting good playing hours. So we pretended to go to sleep and would wait for the elders to fall asleep, so that we could tiptoe to freedom. Sadly such escapes were rare and far between.
As we grew older, my mother could be cajoled to defer the siesta time. Instead of straight going to bed, post lunch, we would put on our favourite music and play a game or two or four of this board game called Chinese Checkers. Now I was/am a good player and my mother was and always will be a fierce competitor, we used to have roaring fights and some great laughs too during these games. My glee when I defeated my mother yet again, while her need to win the game at least once before she gave up!
Of course on such hot days Indians cook/eat ingredients which help keep the body cool. Bengalis have several summer special dishes which we cook and eat regularly during the hot season. One such combination is kolai er dal/urad dal/split black gram lentil and aloo ar jhinge ba aloo ar potol posto/ potatoes along vegetables cooked with poppy seeds which is served with plain steamed rice for lunch. Today let me share the recipe of kolai er dal or Urad/Split Black Gram cooked the Bengali way. This dal/lentil is never served hot, this is always cooked at least a couple of hours before eating and cooled down before serving, it easily takes you to dal heaven with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.This dal is always white in colour, haldi/turmeric not being added to it. I am told that this dal is an acquired taste, but having grown up on it, all I can say is that to the Bengalis nothing is more appetising than this meal on a hot summer afternoon.
This dal tastes best when served with aloo posto/potato cooked with poppy seeds or aloo bhaat ee/mashed potato tempered with dried red chillies....recipes, which I promise to share soon-ish.
|Kolai er dal/urad dal/split black gram lentil and aloo ar jhinge ba aloo ar potol posto/ potatoes along vegetables cooked with poppy seeds which is served with plain steamed rice for lunch on a hot summer day.|
- 1 cup kolai er dal/urad dal/split black gram
- 2 tea spoons of fennel seeds, 1 tea spoon soaked in a little water and made into a coarse paste
- 2 table spoons of sunflower/vegetable oil
- One pinch of baking soda
- 2 dried red chillies
- One pinch of hing/asafoetida
- 1 table spoon of ginger paste
- Salt to taste
- Soak the dal/lentil with one pinch of baking soda for a couple of hours
- Boil the dal/lentil in water till soft, if using Indian pressure cooker, boil till 7/8 whistles
- In a heavy bottomed pan add the oil, once it starts smoking, add the red chillies, the dry fennel seeds, the ginger paste and the boiled dal and mix well
- Add 2 to 3 cups of water and let it come to a boil, if need add a bit more water
- Add the hing/asafoetida in a little warm water and add that and the fennel seed paste at the very end along with the salt, mix well and switch off the gas
- Let the dal cool down for at least a couple of hours before serving it....