Summer in Calcutta

It is hot already in Kolkata. Not April yet-only March sighing out to an end, sun searing itself on your skin, heat breeding sweatshine upon your forehead. There is something about summer that makes me want to write.

Maybe it is because summertime is somehow so intensely tactile. In Kolkata, at least , heat is a ritual. The legend of the calm morning- a reddening sky, a bird starts to chirp- and then the brutal heat, all day long. Food is the coping mechanism the Bengali mind knows best- so there is lemon squeezed to juice, there is sugarcane awaiting a similar fate-there are grapes soaked in water to clean them of roadside or bazaar grime. There is of course, also bright cans of Coke and the competing, jostling cries of ice-cream van owners.  Then there are the nights -a cool, gentle breeze, leaves rustling in assent- or the Kalbaishaki, summer storms typical to the region.

We experience summer, each of us, with an unique discomfort. And yet, here at least, there is also an universality to this experience- you cannot hide in air-conditioned rooms forever. Sooner or later, even the most exquisitely done kohl will smudge, every tumble-down crown of curls pulled back in a bun. The heat humbles us-some more than others.

Perhaps because of its sheer discomfort, the heat makes me dream. I tuck myself in blankets and I dream of winter, I walk to class and I dream I was at the beach. I spend long hours at the ledge as always, staring fixedly at the palm trees and imagining they would look the same anywhere else- draw up lists of countries to visit.

The heat drains you. The heat redeems you. Soon it will be a new year, by our calender and there will be new clothes- new hopes too, if you are lucky enough.

My father always told me the right way to deal with the heat was to close your eyes and dream yourself somewhere cooler. I scoffed and my mother scoffed, but this was before air-conditioners and  this was in the era of frequent power cuts, so I gave in. I don’t remember if it worked, but I have never really dreamt of cold places of my own accord. I guess I read enough about them in my books and on the news enough.

The cold does not have much place here- it is almost April, and it was never this hot in March before, as far as i remember. And warmth this fierce should alarm-only right now, it doesn’t. For five minutes, perhaps…it does not.

The change of seasons makes me intensely nostalgic, but in winter yearning is as quite and still as the world before sunrise. In summer, yearning is enraged at itself,its own impossibility.  The relentlessness of time, the irretrievablity  of loss- I wrote about all this, before-with hope in the autumn and mockingly in the winter…now what do I have left? Only boiled over indignation, only stale rage?

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