Karachi summers: Easy, breezy and beautiful
Summer meant visiting cousins and having access to summer delights - video games and mangoes for instance!
May is a seminal month in Karachi, an intermediary that hints of the pleasures of a South Asian summer. The searing April heat is omnipresent but in late afternoons you can hear the cuckoo’s song that makes it palatable. Since youth, I have heard the melodious sound and to this day it brings back memories of final exams, the never ending wait for summer vacations, gola ganda (ice cones) and all the other things that made summer the most important season for a child.
It truly is the sound of Karachi’s summer, a redoubtable counterpart to the robin’s warble that heralds spring or the cries of the south flying birds that welcome winter.
Karachi’s summer weather is deliciously fickle, a courtesan whose coquetry and harsh indifference distracts one to distraction but come sundown she opens her charm first with a zephyr of cool sea breeze and then the loving embrace of the night’s quietude.
Sultry days give way to ochre, silky dusks which melt into indigo nights and the moon never looks as kindly as it does then.
Summers in those bygone days meant mangoes which always tasted better when unripe and stolen from a neighbour’s house. Of course, the green unripe fruit would, through alchemy, transform into the king of fruits to be gobbled at breakfast with piping hot parathas, eaten for lunch with crumbly baisan ki roti and at dinner as dessert with fresh cream.
There would be other homemade mango delights such as ice cream, shakes, squash, pickle, and the Amrohvi filfora- a scrumptious concoction of mango pulp, onions, fresh mint, and chillies which is eaten for lunch with buttered bread. There would be mango parties with buckets of iced mangoes and ample utensils and appetite to go around. We would be as bold with our consumption as our tummies would allow.
Mangoes were a recurring refrain but no less exciting were the summer sports. The dive in the icy pool marked the beginning of vacations and no week would be complete without a pool foray. Nights would be put to good use with cricket. I played out several Imran Khan exploits in my head only to discover a woeful lack of talent.
Nonetheless, the dawn halwa puri breakfast would more than make up for any defeats and soon I was making plans for the next match. If it wasn't outdoor sports then it were indoor games. Carom, scrabble, ludo, and chess were fixtures and helped through the lazy afternoons. Monopoly notes would be hoarded in sweaty palms until they fell apart and card sessions would last hours until the inevitable fights over barely concealed cheating or the yelling from elders to quiet down.
Summer meant visiting cousins and spending the night at houses of tired but welcoming relatives and even random acquaintances for no reason. It meant having access to summer delights - video games for instance. It was the season for books with Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, and Dickens - firm favourites. Comic books would be bought by the dozen and guarded and exchanged with all the earnestness of a Wall Street transaction. Comics would be best enjoyed in solitude or possibly around grandparents since they never asked silly questions about powers and costumes.
Load shedding was ubiquitous but generators were still a luxury and the hum of the machines would be replaced by the cries of kids on the roads playing games of baraf pani and tag while the elders talked in the candle light or under the glow of emergency lights. Toddlers would swing in crude but effective dupatta hammocks and fall asleep in the serenity whilst listening to a grandmother’s lullaby.
The doggone days would pile up, the heat would increase and just when you thought that Dante’s inferno is coming to life, the heavens would open and down out everything in a deluge of warm summer rain. The lashing monsoon would wash away the physical and mental grime, leaving souls weightless and lead to splashing in puddles, water games and much revelry.
The event to mark it all would be the annual beach picnic. Uncles would plan like war generals; mothers would cook to feed entire battalions and the trumpet call would be planned for very early morning. Year after year the deadline to depart would be set and missed with equal regularity.
The waves would beckon like sirens and the entire day would be spent getting brown and blissfully wet. We would return late in the evening, more seal than human, temporarily sated and utterly happy.
Come August you could hear a dirge - the millions of children lamenting summer’s end.
School shopping would start and we would start the academic year finding solace in the knowledge that it may seem like an eternity, but we will eventually be welcoming another Karachi summer!
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