When I was young, summer holidays were filled with ripe yellow banganapalli mangoes picked early in the morning from the market in Secunderabad, a long line of footwear of all sizes belonging to girls and boys of all ages neatly arranged towards the side of the house leading to the tuition room with a blackboard painted every now and then, and a room full of silent students seriously contemplating the meaning of life while trying to solve a few hundred math problems with my grandfather (my mother’s father) clad in a veshti and shirt, seated on his cane chair with his left leg crossed over his right, a pen in hand and his reading glasses below the bridge of his nose, eagerly waiting to see which student solved the aforementioned math problem.
Usually, the row of cycles outside the compound wall a few feet away from the light pink flowers of the Oleander tree signified that exams were nearing. I remember the enchanting fragrance of white and orange coral jasmines filling the entrance to the house, the brightly coloured hibiscus in red and yellow leaning near the gate as if to greet you, the white roses sitting snobbishly on the terrace balcony, and the choky sound of my grandfather's scooter with a bunch of keys jangling from the key slot every time we made a trip to the Fifth Avenue Bakery (literally the only bakery that was on Fifth Avenue!) now popularly known as FAB, and the sharp whistle of the cooker in the kitchen, and the silent meow of the little cat that used to visit us.
I remember how the morning sun lit up the kitchen, the angle of its rays falling on the black and white checkerboard marble floor, so it looked like Jacob’s Stairs descending from heaven. I remember my grandmother’s mouthwatering feast every afternoon, the way she made learning tables easy while we lay next to her, and how she was a working grandmother with a running business in the house. Summer holidays to Hyderabad also meant I could attend art workshops in the neighbourhood and many a time, I came home with a lot of learning that involved papier-mâché bowls, ceramic painting, glass painting or little bits and bobs of jewellery made using white clay or plaster of Paris. (one of my friends refused to believe I had made my own jewellery).
I could play hide and seek with the neighbours’ kids and bug my baby cousin Janani who was the more obedient of the two of us. My grandfather was up very early in the morning, exercised regularly and went on long walks, even on cold days. He came back home and stretched, while I munched on my breakfast, waiting for my turn for the math tutoring to begin.
The huge grandfather’s clock (literally) on the wall was a reminder of time moving, and each day as the pendulum swung from left to right, I used to look at it with awe and wonder, comparing it to the beating of a heart. On some days, the pendulum paused and took a breath. My grandfather would casually draw up a wooden chair, stand on it, open its glass case and wind its key. The pendulum would swing and gong again.
I guess that’s what we all need as well, a little bit of pausing and keying, so we can restart afresh.