Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Simply Summer - With Chennai

Mercilessly hot- the temperature soars to higher degrees of comparison; leaving Chennaiites with a popular anecdote describing Chennai’s weather-”Hot, hotter, hottest!”  This is when the entire city begins in unison with its weather woes. What more- we are even subject to the blistering Kathri Veyyil (a term used to describe peak summer) usually during April and May when mercury levels are on an inexplicable upscale. Though trite, a must-utter statement each year is, “Oh this year is the hottest, last year was still better!” Despite all this, there are these summer-time tales that we continue to nurse- in fact they are the driving forces that help one weather the relentless weather!

Summer means a lot of things to all of us here. It’s that time of the year for fryums made out of both rice and sago. The heat is capitalized to make some crispy fryums. Terraces serve as good space for sun-drying some neatly strewn shapes of the rice/sago and chilly blend. Within just a few hours, the shapes- sometimes starry, sometimes curvy lines or even the shape of a parabola, are all ready to be dispatched for frying. They make for some crunchy accompaniments both for lunch and tea.

Summer also calls for mango revelry- both raw and ripe. The season kick-starts with some tender mangoes that taste heavenly both in brine and chilly laden pickles. They are fondly referred to as ‘vadumanga’ that just taste perfect with the trademark ‘thayir sadham’(curd rice). The King of fruits usually arrives a little later around early May- with varieties galore- Banganapalli, Salem Malgoa, Alphonse, Javadhi, etc.,

Just when the heat is raked up by all the mango indulgence, some road-side delights help one cool off. Those long tendons of slender cucumber find their way to the streets- vendors dot the city with heaps of parrot-green hued cucumber on their pushcarts. Not to forget the sugarcane juice with a hint of lime and ginger. The sugarcane juice vendors are a ubiquitous feature- one can spot them just when they feel like downing a glass of some natural sucrose. Oh yes, and tender coconuts and ice apples (nongu in Tamil) too, adding to the list of bounties available from nature. The sight of green-striped water melons and musk melons too are something that one cannot miss- thanks to the eye-catching display by their hawkers. The beaches are fun too- with their lip-smacking thenga-manga sundal (coconut and raw mango snack). With cone-shaped paper covers full of sundal, the beach is just the place to be- for a fresh, economical outing. Tall glasses of buttermilk laced with asafoetida are any day the preferred favourites that are prepared with ease, very much at home.

Prepping up for summer also means loads of cotton clothing in the wardrobe. Cotton Street on Pantheon Road, Egmore, Chennai, is invariably the city’s favourite cotton destination with choices aplenty both in design and material- choose from Kalamkaris, Bathiq prints, Jaipur Cotton, Mangalgiri, pure cotton, handloom and what not! This is something that the city’s dwellers could be proud of- A street full of easily affordable cotton textiles sold by the metre. 

Of course we have spas and beach resorts that have found their ground too, with more and more people flocking them. Yet, there’s nothing to beat the tried and tested, much simpler favourites, that are easier on pockets-year on year. It only goes to show that no matter what, we still have our good old ways of engaging with summer, and embrace it, in its stride!

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