We are often told to be grateful for what we have. However, sometimes it is the absence of certain things that merits our gratitude. Like pain for instance. We ought to be grateful for its absence because when it’s present, the particular place in our body from where it emanates takes over and magnifies itself several fold. Suddenly, that little finger that throbs is not so little any more. Everything else is forgotten and our complete attention is focused on that finger.
A cold compress, hot towel, tablets, injections, those home remedies we laughed at, that homeopathic doctor our neighbour’s friend went to last year, prayers, even one’s mother just blowing on it, become real choices. We are ready to latch onto anything to get relief, partial relief, even just hope of relief.
The Lahori summer is like that. By God it is painful! The heat, and later the humidity are overwhelming. But they make our senses come alive. And therein lie the joys of summer. Nothing teaches us to appreciate small blessings more than a Lahori summer!
The night when the electricity doesn’t go and the fans keep whirring non-stop; the stray cloud that flits across the sun, temporarily blocking the laser beam focused on us; the big tree that offers shade on a sultry afternoon; that glass of plain cold water. We realise that happiness is not really that complicated. It is made up of the simplest things in life, a collection of transient moments of joy waiting to be recognised.
It’s also topsy-turvy season. Tempers rise as if riding the heatwave, patience drops, energy levels plummet and there is a hint of desperation in the air. Norms of interaction change. The beggar who would look at you with haughty disdain were you to offer him petty change, smiles and accepts a bottle of cold water, but you tarry an extra second at the green light and you get blaring horns and an earful from the people behind you.
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The traffic policeman standing in the blazing sun cannot be bothered to stop the cheeky fellow who rides along on a motorcycle with half a watermelon shell on his head, instead of a helmet. The snooty birds that usually prefer the neighbour’s white breadcrumbs over your stale roti, come to shamelessly splash in the water baths you put out for them.
The garden bully, the crow, instead of scaring them away satisfies himself with muddying up their water with the roti to soften it for his evening meal while the cat snoozes lazily in the shade, not having the energy to go for a chase. The universe seems suspended in a haze of heat.
Children shed clothes and hordes of naked ones can be seen jumping headlong in that earthy brown canal that takes on a new life in the summer. Women shed inhibition and some even reach the point of rebellion. No more slaving in the kitchen hell they declare, and the men for once give in and take them for a picnic on the canal bank after the sun goes down. There, the dupattas still demurely on their heads, the women throw modesty to the wind and wade in waist deep into the canal. The men look on protectively with half an eye, more attention on the mangoes chilling on ice.
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Summer also dramatically recalibrates the social divide. Our multi-fissured society is all of a sudden just a simple binary. The ‘cool haves’ and the ‘uncool have-nots’. The uncool are of course the steaming, sweating masses and the cool are those who live in air-conditioned houses, drive air-conditioned cars, eat meals in air-conditioned restaurants, sleep in air-conditioned bedrooms huddled in blankets, and go away on vacation to cooler climes the first chance they get.
The question is: are they escaping misery or a slice of real life? Doesn’t the sanitised existence in their thermostat-controlled bubble, not become dull and predictable? One wonders if they know what they are missing. The smell of the wet earth after the first monsoon rains, the motia flowers, the long ladders on the jamun trees, the glorious amaltas and gulmohar trees, Benazir kulfa, neebo pani… the list of summer treats is surprisingly long. Perhaps someone needs to promote a summer staycation in Lahore as an exotic, oriental holiday experience for them to step out of their cocoons.
It could even be touted as a romantic holiday, because summers are, indeed, a bit like love; intense, over-powering, completely irrational. That person in your life whom you really cannot stand, yet couldn’t imagine living without either. The person whose presence wears you down, exhausts you, yet you endure it, knowing that no other can provide those moments of pure joy that make everything else worthwhile. (I speak metaphorically and any resemblance to a living person is purely coincidental)!