Blame it on the last day of February. Or on my significant other, who mentioned the Flame of the Forest as he spoke to me from a train from Ranchi to Jamshedpur this morning. On the way the sunlight dapples the freshly-laundered linen that I hung to dry an hour ago. On the impossible combination of exhilaration and mild panic that still tends to swirl around the back of my head at this time of the year - the kind that can originate only in partly-covered syllabuses. Or on the quiet but sure signs - bright green little shoots sticking out of crevices, a bluer-than-blue sky, Holi - that legendary harbinger of all things spring and summer...or the feeling of newness that everything is imbued with.
I'm a child of the elements, I like to think. The seasons are my best friends. Delhi winters. Mumbai monsoons. Calcuttan autumns - those sublime days of the Sharadotsav. But summer and spring? Summer and spring, in my head, belong to my hometown and all the places around it. I'm probably not alone in this - these are seasons we end up linking with home, most of us.
There's something about the way the world starts to look and feel around Holi. Everything a little warmer, the sun a little brighter. I'm a 90s kid - I'm from the generation that spent entire summer vacations with a dozen cousins and massive amounts of imagination for company. I grew up sticky-fingered from eating ice candies, and making jug after colossal jug of Rasna. I pretended to be asleep when assorted aunts scolded us into bed every May afternoon, and sneaked ice-cold water out of the refrigerator when we were forbidden to drink any, immediately after we came in from a sweaty game of catch or badminton. I took the exam time-table down dutifully, as soon as it was put up. I made schedules and plans and looked at past years' question papers. Like most kids from the East, I discovered that I studied best in the morning - playing with your friends in the evening tires you, and a 5:45 a.m. sunrise means your room will steadily get brighter and warmer even as you determinedly hit the Snooze button. I was your classic nerd - I dreaded and enjoyed taking my ICSE and ISC exams - and funnily enough, the first picture that springs to mind when I remember Mom or Dad driving me to school for each paper is the clean, crisp, summery look that the colony roads wore. Those roads were lined with trees - gulmohar, amaltas, some purple-flowered variety I never learned the name of - and those trees bloomed in all their glory every March and April. It looked so beautiful - all of it - that I'd momentarily forget all about my paper, inhale deeply and break into a big grin.
I'm part of the old-fashioned lot that hung damp bedsheets at their doors and windows in Rez, hoping that would temper some of the blistering heat that the Delhi wind blew in tirelessly from July to September. I'm from the generation that would willingly cart an armload of readings and a bottle of water all the way into Main Corr, just to find a shady little nook to curl up and study in. Our classrooms were not air-conditioned (yes, yes, I'll give you New Age kids some time to recover from the shock), so we strategically chose places under the long-stemmed ceiling fans. And to this day, my answer to summer heat is a lot of nimbu pani, old faded cotton tees, and three showers a day. So all you kids who have more technologically-advanced solutions - more power to you, I say.
And now, excuse me while I go make some Rasna.
Coming back to spring and Holi - well, if you're clued-in enough, you'll know when they're around the corner. Don't ask me how - you just will. It's in the air, literally. I like Holi. I like the absolute abandon with with it is played, I like all the planning and plotting and strategizing involved - I love all the colour and I'd kill for Holi food. (I'm serious - I would.) I haven't played Holi in a while now - not enough company - but each Holi from my childhood and all my Holis from College are special. Those memories are among the things that make these places what they are to me - and that is why, all these years later, too, I find myself yearning for family, friends and food around this time.
Which is why this beautiful time of year is a particularly hard one to be away from home at. You have to see the place to believe it - it's almost as if the land spruces itself up for the festival, and the ensuing summer. The trees are abloom, the sky is clear, the air smells crisp and slightly smoky from the stacks of leaves that are piled up and burned away at regular intervals; the sun is hot but not completely unforgiving (not yet, at least), the hedges and walkways are lush - and the stars are visible at night. Mango trees are covered with flowers, wood apples are beginning to ripen and spring gets ready to make way for the Indian summer in all its raging glory. Local vendors start putting up imaginatively-worded ads for gulaal and such - and if you can get past the questionable grammar, they are actually pretty interesting. Summer frocks and Bubblegummers on little girls, all the boys finally freed of their jumpers, local newspapers beginning to talk about the impending exam season...all signs of a fresh year just beginning to settle in.
It's funny how it's the little things that mean the most - the small details that remind you how far you are from home, and still keep you close to it. It's funny how, when you spot a pack of Rasna in your neighborhood store, you drop everything else to pick it up. It's funny how, even as an adult, you look half-guiltily around to make sure no one is looking when you glug chilled water first thing after a couple of hours in the sun. Maybe we don't ever really, fully grow up. And thank God for that.
Image courtesy Google