SUMMER STYLE STATEMENT 17
In our special summer series, celebrated individuals from India’s Northeast share their secrets to beat the summer heat. So, stay cool, look chic and leave your imprint this summer
Hyderabad-based writer from Assam, NABINA DAS speaks of the fun of being in Hyderabad in summer
The fun about being in Hyderabad during summer is that the hot sun blesses you even before you know it, and bids goodbye even before you or anyone else in the other parts of India know it. My students of Creative Writing at University of Hyderabad had been wailing in the month of March itself that the weather was turning really hot. And anyone familiar with the Deccan plateau will know that this was no feigned wailing from a bunch of First World youngsters newly encountering the tropical climate for their study abroad program. Summer, for us here, was bright and hard-hitting even before the rest of India transitioned properly from winter. But then, from March to May, it would be only a ritual where very soon grapes, mangoes and watermelons would roll in, literally, to render the season sweet and celebratory. Who doesn’t want a “staycation” in such conditions then? For those that are still wondering, weatherwise Hyderabad is one of the best kept secrets in India, come summer or winter. And staycation doesn’t mean I stayed put inside my apartment all the time. Balmy Deccan evenings are a great opportunity to play a game of badminton and enjoy a swim or go the Hussain Sagar lake side or even steal a glance at the glorious sunsets from the top of Moula Ali hill.
Born and brought up in Guwahati, summer for me has been a hot and humid one for most parts. One that is heavy with mango and jackfruit essences, the seamless raindrops, and insects humming, birds nesting, and we humans dissolving in the aura of the thick heat. The temperature is never too high there, but a honey-clay-and-sweat beads one. The arum leaves alone, holding errant raindrops for as long as they can, know the secret of a humid summer in Assam.
I must add that before landing in Hyderabad, I’ve seen summer in Delhi and then Upstate New York, for just under a decade in both the places where I lived for study and work. If the first one was one prolonged tribulation in heat and haplessness soothed by the Gulmohars, the other was a glorious three-month long affair with lakeside concerts, trail hikes and outdoors picnic table meals with friends.
From then having worn loom-spun mekhela sador to salwars and tees and jeans, to Fab India kurtis and shorts and tank tops and aqua pants, what changes has my cupboard seen as I left Guwahati to now reside in the Deccan? As far as I can judge, my sartorial habits have not changed a whole lot. This summer, I’ve worn cotton shirts, kurtas and skirts mostly to beat the white Hyderabad heat. Saris and salwars were reserved for formal dos and parties. I wore less trousers but more leggings, even while teaching. That constituted a lot of casual comfort as well as practicality, the latter useful while on a commute on public transport rail for about two hours to teach classes as summer began.
Summer always meant reading and more reading for me since schooldays. This summer it was mostly poetry – Vijay Sheshadri, Joy Goswami, Gregory Pardlo (pleased that I’ve workshopped with Pardlo, the current Pulitzer poetry prize winner), K Satchidanandan, George Szirtes, Kynpham S Nongkynrih, Sudeep Sen, and Uddipana Goswami. There’s been some fiction and nonfiction too to punctuate this reading. One significant book to be mentioned here is Malsawmi Jacob’s Zorami, the first of its kind in Mizo English writing documenting through fiction the insurgency years of Mizoram. Simultaneously, I enjoyed reading off-beat articles on politics, literature, criticism, and the arts. A few new websites provided me the much needed succor in alternative reading, such as, Scroll and Antiserious. A lot of my friends are engaged in translating poetry into English from the Malayalam, Telugu, Marathi, etc. Reading Naren Bedide, Ravi Shanker, Hemant Divate and many others have been an education in itself. This reading has been bolstered by my own poetry reading events in and out of town. All this, topped by teaching young students who presented excellent short projects in Creative Writing, each a delight to read and ponder on.
Summer cannot be let go without great food. Especially, we in Deccan are not intimidated from indulging in a variety of eats and drinks by the mercury readings. To list quickly, spicy biriyani and that quirky cuisine called ‘chicken 65’ always topped the list along with typical Telangana curries and chutneys, aided with a deluge of watermelons and mangoes to stabilize the tummy. Various kinds of pulihora with tomato or lemon or tamarind never failed to soothe a blazing afternoon, as did kadhis and rasams. The famous Hyderabadi ‘dabal ka meetha’ (bread pudding) and ‘khubani ka meetha’ (apricot preserve) were ever present for spontaneous feasting. Alongside, I loved eating seasonal vegetables in light spices, plenty of grilled chicken sans all muddy masalas, fish cooked Assamese style (tenga), and large bowls of fresh cucumber-tomato-onion salad.
As I write this, a heavy downpour outside my window tells me the southern winds are getting active and summer is on the wane here. Time again for speaking of the night, of the flowers that inhabit its light or, as the Hyderabad poet Makhdum Mohiuddin had said: “Phir chhidi raat, baat phoolon ki…”. For those that will still bake in the heat for a couple more months elsewhere, I wish you can consider Hyderabad a summer destination the next time. You won’t regret!