The hot, humid and languid days of summer are drawing to a close. Early mornings are once again beginning to feel crisp, with just that hint of a nip in the air. One season handing the baton over to the next, as time races on relentlessly.
Can you think of the time when you have woken up early in the morning, rushed to shut out the cool breeze from an open window before quickly returning to bed shivering, drawing the covers tighter around yourself? And that cup of steaming, freshly brewed cardamom tea (or coffee), should one magically appear by your bedside? Heaven. Here, on earth.
My memories of feeling “cold in the bones” take me back in time to when I was a young lad, perhaps 10 years old. I studied at a “boarding” (residential) school in India, several hundred kilometers away from the town where my parents lived. Each year, at the end of the school term and before the start of our summer vacations, students were required to go trekking in the hills in a program that was designed to instill esprit de corps and a sense of adventure. Boys from each grade would be grouped into teams of 10 or 12 and provided clear instructions on the gear we were required to carry in our backpack, details of the route we would take each day over the 10 days’ trek and places we would stay in. A school master and two “orderlies” who helped pitch tents and cook meals, accompanied each group. Our treks were elaborately planned and crisscrossed the Simla hills taking us to exotic places like Mashobra, Chail (highest cricket field in the world), Kandaghat, Kulu, Manali, Dharamsala (abode of the current Dalai Lama) and further North to Rohtang Pass, Lahaul and Spiti. We would take a bus or the quaint train from Kalka to Simla (the Kalka-Simla Railway was laid in 1898, Google reminds me.) Starting early in the morning after a hot breakfast of eggs and parathas, we would walk 10 – 15 kms each day, arriving at our destination by late afternoon or dusk and were billeted in Government Rest Houses and Dak Bungalows (literally, “posthouses”).
The reader will notice my deliberate use of “army” terms in describing these arrangements. In India, British Raj (commenced in 1858 officially, but actually started consolidating from the early 1700s) ended in 1947. To govern the large populous India, the very limited number of British administrators would travel extensively across the country to interact with the locals, keep a watchful eye and dispense justice on the spot. An extensive network of rest houses, caravanserais and staging houses for the postal service were constructed and maintained across the country for use by the British during their travels. At best, these had afforded the most basic accommodation in their glory days. They remained unchanged after the British left India and were dark and damp, with no electricity or running water and inhabited by creatures that slide, crawl and scamper. Usually located atop a hill, overwhelmed by the undergrowth and aging pine and deodar (a variety of cedar) trees, the houses might have provided the British the cool escape they sought from the steaming Indian summers, but for young impressionable minds these were scary abodes and our imaginations ran amuck with stories of things that go bump in the night. They were also bone-chilling cold, as we huddled in our sleeping bags on the floor each night. On the other hand, we were fascinated by leather bound Visitors’ Comments Book that were diligently maintained by the local khansama or the caretaker. It was particularly exciting when we came across handwritten entries in fading ink by historic legends like Rudyard Kipling, Jim Corbett and other famous, recognizable names.
I would break away from the group to sit alone, braced against a thick tree trunk, taking in the invigorating mountain air and fragrant whiffs of smoke from pine and deodar leaves used by the cooks as fuel for the fire to cook the evening meal. I would be rushing to complete my daily journal before twilight faded and the fast encroaching darkness enveloped us completely. However, my thoughts would invariably drift to the travelers who had transited through these bungalows before us and what they might have been experiencing when recording comments in the guest book. For some inexplicable reason, for me dusk has always been a time of contemplative reflection with a melancholic touch, perhaps for the past that cannot be retrieved.
It is interesting that while the Indian mind might have a fondness for the cool breeze, a Canadian or resident of a cold country is more likely to be attracted to the hot, sultry days of summer. Also, as summer draws to a close, kids and their parents start planning the return to school. I am not so sure if their thoughts dwell on cool breezes and reflect tranquility at this time!
Be that as it may, noted lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri and the inimitable “yodeler” Kishore Kumar have captured the mood evoked by cool breezes in this wonderful song:
“Thandee hawaa yeh Chandni suhaani, ae mere dil suna koi kahaani”
[The cool breeze and this pleasing moonlight, oh my heart spin a yarn]