“Never, never, never am I ever going to Madras in the summer again!!” My vehement declaration at about ten years of age after one particularly gruelling summer holiday spent with my aunts in Madras. Drawing into Chennai by train, the first thing that greeted visitors was the foetid smell of Basin Bridge followed by the dank undergrowth smell of Egmore, the acrid dustiness of Nungambakkam – i swear till today that I have an olfactory map of Chennai!
The gods of Madras must have been listening and plotting vengeance because here I am today, having spent all of 26 years in this city, moaning and grumbling through every summer!
As a child,coming from the dry dust bowl of Hyderabad where one never sweated, it was particularly agonising – how was it humanly possible that one could sweat through one’s bathwater???! so did one actually apply soap with bathwater or sweat – these seemingly trivial questions occupied many hours of childhood!
What made summers here bearable was the fun times with cousins – and there were MANY of us!! The pillow fights, card games, vast quantities of yummy food provided by generous aunts, unending sessions of carom and the piles of new Enid Blytons, Williams and Billy Bunters there were to devour.
One summer’s night, i was deeply engrossed in an Enid Blyton – my fourth for the day! – and just a vague feeling that there should be more noise in the background and why aren’t people coming in to dinner… After what seemed like many hours, a bunch of aunts and uncles who’d been chatting in the garden troops in. What on earth ARE you doing still awake? It’s past 11! Being rather shy, it took me some courage to ask aren’t we going to have dinner. Well, not unless you want another one because you’ve already had it some four hours ago was the answer – i had completely forgotten! Was unceremoniously sent off to bed and woke up a few minutes later thinking i was at the bottom of sea! Well, all that had happened was there was a power cut and we all woke up bathing in a sea of sweat…
There was no question of being able to sleep so we sat around in the moonlit garden till someone had the bright idea of plucking mangoes from the tree above our heads – well, Madras began to seem not such a very bad place after all!
Madras has also taught me to search out recipes to beat the heat – recipes from around the world… one from our own backyard – the Punjab… is the divine aam ka panna – raw mango juice.
Aam ka panna
2 medium sized raw – very raw – mangoes – pressure cooked in one glass of water.
4 glasses of water
Sugar – 1/2 cup – this will vary depending on how sour your mangoes are – taste and adjust at the end
Roasted cumin (jeera) powder – 1 tsp
Kala namak (black or Himalayan salt) – 1/4 tsp
Salt – 1/2 tsp
Cool the cooked mangoes, peel and collect the pulp. Use a spoon to scrape off the flesh sticking to the inside of the skin. Cooking mangoes with the pulp instead of peeling them ensures that you retain much of the essential oils which lie just below the skin.
Add water and all the other ingredients and whiz with a blender till smooth. Pour into a jug – this is a concentrate and can be diluted in 1:1 proportions to drink. If you want to keep it for a week in the frig, just add water, sugar and salt to the pulp and whisk. Then boil it up again. Add the cumin and black salt at the end and bottle this concentrate – lasts for over a week in the frig.
Cool off!!! Airconditioners help! Power cuts don’t! Use the power cut time to meditate and become philosophical about things you can’t change – like living in Madras!