Summer Chill

Kissan squash
Nimbu pani
Thumbs Up & Limca
Cold coffee
Iced tea
Mint-lemon flavored water

That's the order of my favourite summer chills. I should say 'drinks', I know, but the point of having them is not just to quench thirst, but to taste the coolness of cold water and the chill of ice... & have that exquisite sense of calm descend on you, on a hot summer's day - however momentarily - as the liquid courses down your parched throat. The pleasure inversely proportional to the intensity of the heat it is supposed to beat!

KISSAN (Orange) SQUASH - I have reversed the order in the list here... because it occurred to me that the squash was an integral part of my life long before Frooti made its appearance. My childhood summers simply can't be imagined without Kissan squash. And by that, I basically mean 'orange' squash. I can't recall whether Kissan had all the flavors that are available now. But 'orange' was most definitively always there. Baba made sure of a limitless supply & Ma always marvelled at how quickly didi & I could finish them!


FROOTI - "Mango Frooti, fresh & juicy"; I can still hear the jingle in my head. It was a new thing in the early 90s & has become associated in my mind, more than anything else, with my high school years -- because I remember two punishing Board exams where my papers were punctuated with gulping down Frooti tetrapacks that Baba would bring, in between chaperoning me to and from the Exam centre.

The bottles came much later; and yes, I can gulp down those too... in seconds!


NIMBU PANI - For 5 consecutive summers, I had Nimbu pani almost daily in College Street. I would spend my college & university years at two ends of the same stretch of road, between 2 crossings, choc-a-bloc with tiny book stalls that catered equally to middle-class ambitions and intellectual eclecticism. But no matter which category you belonged to, you couldn't do without the nimbu pani. Yes, there were the 150 ml bottles of soda - 'cold drinks' - but however cheap, they still cost more. And their 'cold' was not guaranteed. You could get anything between cool to normal to (even) warm temperature (if your luck was very bad). Nimbu pani, on the other hand, guaranteed you exactly what you expected: refreshing cold water, the tang of fresh lime, and the sweetness of sugar perfectly balanced with a dose of rock-salt.

The making of that nimbu pani was an exercise in art & efficiency. Just as well. As a more busy vendor could not be found in the whole of College Street. The ice-cream-wallah, jhal-muri-wallah, dal-pakora-wallah, all did good business -- but none was as brisk as that of the nimbu-pani-wallah. At any point, he had at least 4/5 customers demanding their pani RIGHT NOW. Nobody was willing to spare him a minute. And wonder of wonders, he complied. He would arrange 4/5 glasses in a neat row, put a small spoonful of rock-salt in each of them, squeeze half a lime each with a squeezer & then, in a final dramatic flourish, draw out water from his hidden drum. A long steel rod pierced through a tumbler did the trick; he would draw it out to its full length in one effortless movement & the water would pour out in a smooth arc, with which he filled up those glasses standing in a row. One quick squirl with the spoon & there was your nimbu pani. For 4/5 parched souls at a time.

I have never had as refreshing a drink which cost so little - a rupee. By the end of my University years, it had increased to two. I haven’t had it after that. But this I can say: the sweet-lime soda of the decades that followed have been no match to it.

COLD COFFEE - I can only think of Coffee House when speaking of cold coffee. I am not sure if I have had it anywhere else... & if I have, I don't remember. Studying English Honours at Presidency College was a dream come true. And of those 3 unforgettable years, some of the most memorable moments were in Coffee House, or the Indian Coffee House (ICH), as it is more formally called. Pramod da's canteen was the place for the daily un-wind; but for special occasions, ICH was our default setting! We celebrated so many birthdays there, my own 19th & 20th included. And the permanent fixture in all those celebrations was the cold coffee (with or without ice-cream). We raised a toast to youth & happiness & our glorious futures with the drink.

(It's a funny thing about my life that I started celebrating birthdays with my friends only after turning adult. Before that, it was just payesh - a dessert I never had; & aashirbad - which I looked forward to, as my parents always blessed me... with gifts).

THUMBS UP & LIMCA - While Frooti & Squash & Nimbu pani belong to distinct phases of my growing up years, Thumbs Up & Limca encompass the whole arc. I can't remember a time when I did not have those aerated drinks; & honestly speaking, I really don't know where exactly they belong in the sequence of summer chills that I have listed above. They have been my longest loves... I missed them so in my decade in the Netherlands.

ICED TEA - For the whole of that decade, I was an incorrigible bore when it came to drinks. I have never had alcohol all my life, but I also did not have wine. And this, in Europe! You acquire a taste for it, they say; I never did! I tried hard to like it in the initial years... but gave up after a point. So, what did I do while others waxed eloquent about this or that red or white wine? I had Coke. (Yes, I know how horrible that sounds)! This was mostly at friends', though; everywhere else, when I ate out during the summer months, I had Iced tea. Not smoothies, or juice. And quite often, they were served in Heineken glasses. Hence, in my mind, Heineken is associated not with beer but tea. Sacriligous? Ah well!

MINT-LEMON FLAVOURED WATER - This, too, was exclusive to my Dutch years, though towards the end of my stay there. Sometime during Srishti's pre-school years, I took to flavoring drinking water in the summer - with a few strands of mint leaves & just 2/3 slivers of lemon. Just enough to give a hint of them in the water. But I chose an open glass jar for that - as I wanted the leaves spread out in the water - and used a saucer as the lid. Needless to say, I used cold water... & it tasted divine, esp in sultry afternoons. I had picked up this variant of drinking delight from my favourite neighbourhood cafe & tried it frequently enough during the last 2/3 summers. I can still see the jar, placed exactly in the middle of the 6-seater IKEA dining table, waiting for us to return home & be savoured...

It must appear strange that I have not listed the most popular Indian summer drinks in my list -- Aam panna, Jaljeera, Lassi. It is strange, but true - these drinks have played no part in my life, though I do like the first two. There are those who swear by Aam panna as the ultimate summer drink. I prefer raw mango more in the form of chutney, though I don't mind the drink. I think I've had jaljeera only in dhabas, to wash down the spice of the mutton/chicken curries. The one memorable instance outside of it was when a dear friend gave me an exclusive day-long treat during my second trimester & I had jaljeera with every meal & snack, to her great amusement. Lassi, I have never liked: sorry.

The best summer drink in the world, however, I have not listed: WATER. I have known the cool of tubewell water during childhood summers at my grandma's & the earth-laden smell of pitcher water in steel glass at my in-laws', for a brief period in my late 20's. But fridge water in a glass-glass has been my most abiding love of summers.

I'll drink a glassful now!