Monday, February 28, 2011

Spring is in the air

Spring in India can be fascinating.

I spent many years of my life in the temperate zones and spring would be the time when we would see people thawing out. Literally. People would slowly get more lively after mid-January. The many bizarre rituals around groundhog day would predict how long the winter was going to last. And spring would be all about celebrating the end of a long and dreary season. In some places, it would be the time of a short break, from the hot days of summer that would lazily arrive, like Nat King Cole so famously describes in his song, Roll on Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer.

But, life in the tropics has been fascinatingly different. In India, we don't have a long and dreary winter. In fact, in many parts of the world, people would probably call the Indian winter their summer.So, what do we really celebrate when spring arrives? If I had my pick, I would say, the arrival of mangoes. And right now, that still seems so many months away, even if I can see the trees blossoming everywhere I look.

Did I say the spring in India is fascinating? Yesterday, I was looking at the number of insects around the trees. It seems to have gone up dramatically in the last few weeks as the weather has been warming up. I saw two giant black bumble bees, each the size of a small potato, fighting it out over the rights to the chromosomes of the next generation. And the green mangoes are already in the market. We had some great mango flavored daal a few days ago and now, I am eagerly looking forward to the fresh mango chutney in the next meal. Just fry a few slices of green mango in some vegetable oil, throw in some salt, sugar, turmeric and red chili powder, and a teaspoon of roasted coriander seeds and you will see what spring is all about.

As a kid, to me, spring was all about anticipation. The anticipation of a long summer vacation, which would provide a brief respite from the beatings at school, if I got my multiplication tables wrong. The anticipation of those long summer afternoons, when the adults would be busy enjoying their siestas and I would crawl through the house looking for pigeons and sparrows to catch (and release, of course, once the moustache  was painted on). The anticipation of a nice and ice-cold glass of  pudina-ka-sherbet (cold drink made from fresh mint) when the hot spell of loo (dry summer afternoon wind in North India) would stop in the evening. And, the anticipation of the arrival of the mango, the undisputed king of all fruits, that sends the salivary glands into overdrive, as the sweet smell escapes the straw baskets in the country markets, on those lazy, hazy, crazy summer afternoons in India.

As I keep looking at the green mangoes and the bumble bees, I keep counting the number of days we still have, until we see those glorious shades of red, yellow and orange in the fruit stalls. Till then, spring it is.

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