Into The Last Summer Break

The sun beats down like a hammer on this city, splintered into blades cutting through the gaps in the trees. I see the million moving stabs of light on the pavement, and my shadow moves through them bobbing and pinned to my feet, unaffected and living on a different realm. The afternoon traffic goes past me with its sounds and vapors. Today, I decided not to take the bus home and just walk the mile. Because, there was no other option. I spent all of my bus-money on the twenty rupee feast in the canteen – the worst burger, glass-bottle soda and a bag of chips. It was one last splurge with my friends before I would see them again after the summer.

The energy of the last day of school before the summer break is different from the one before the winter break, and far from the one before the final exams at the end of the academic year. The other days always came with some anxiety about what lay ahead, but the lack of worry today would reflect in everyone’s mood and actions. No amount of holiday homework could faze us, it would all be done the week before the school reopened anyway. I bet the teachers felt the same too, a break from this state-backed madness.

The kids got out of control when the last class of the day would end, and the teacher left hurriedly with the ring of the bell. Some students would just be out of the gates even before the buses started rolling in, the privilege of straight up bunking, or having physical education, or Work-Ex class towards the end of this day. But, the fun awaited those who lingered around the campus – a fight, a dramatic proposal, or some student getting into trouble; no matter how late you left, there would always be something you missed out on. Today, we just threw water on each other and then threw the half-full uncapped plastic coke-bottles at the running ceiling fan. The ceiling fan would shoot it in random directions and someone would score a hit – bonus, if it was an unsuspecting girl. Double bonus if the rickety fan finally gave up and stopped working. It did not make sense, it didn’t have to make sense. By the end of it, the hot and humid classroom would be a minimalist’s art piece on teen-chaos, and we would have to get away from it before the cleaners arrived.

My shirt is still wet from this game, mixed with sweat and sticky-sweet droplets of Coke drying on my skin, now making a shower an absolute necessity when I get home. I can smell my toasted scalp, with wafts of sweaty uniform in between. The nylon-socks are itching, but I would experience the bliss of scratching my calves and shins only after reaching home. Balls would be second in order. The backpack is light, thankfully, as I had planned to not take any books with me today – it was a low-risk gamble for the occasion, so I could afford the being sent out of the class. I would have preferred it, actually, but I guess the teachers too knew of my tricks. The only thing in this beaten up schoolbag, apart from a notebook and a few assignment handouts, is my lunchbox. The half-eaten parantha in it would, on some previous years, be untombed not until the very end of the summer break. I must not forget about it. I hear it interrupt and randomly dampen the rattle of the metal spoon – its coinhabitant in that lunchbox, which was dancing to my strides.

As the local market – too posh for me or my family, comes close, I am grasped by the desire to grab a McAloo Tikki from the McDonald’s there. Then I recall the very reason for which I am walking home. Maybe, some of my friends are already there, maybe she would be there. Not today, though, I just need to get home to a liter of lemonade, a cold shower and rajmah-chawal doused in dahi. I can also catch a glimpse of her (the other one) on one of the school buses now coming back around. There was always one on every bus. There was always one in every class.

I cross the road and I see the window of my home peek through the other houses and trees. The dog knows I am around, and I can hear him bark, the maniac’s voice comes from every window and end of the house, bouncing off walls, as he paces about frantically. In this familiarity, as the sound of cars also fades behind me, I start thinking of the evening. Today, my friends from the neighbourhood (who were also my schoolmates) would stay out till late in the evening. I wonder which computer game did they get, I wonder if my machine would run it, or if I will have to play it at their place in the evenings and skip football. I hope the two girls come out for their evening walk, I would skip football anyway. That reminds me, I need to harass my parents for football shoes, I still play with my old sneakers on and everyone else already has obtained their ‘kits’. My classmate had told me earlier at school that a celebrity was wearing nothing but cauliflower leaves for a PETA photoshoot, which was in the city edition of the papers today – I have to check that out right away, but maybe after my belly is full. Maybe, after I pass out on the couch, to the breezy sprays and hums of the cooler.

The mango tree which shades my house, rustles and welcomes me as I enter the stairwell. He is ready for the summer too – and there will be plenty of pickle for us and the neighbours. And some more for the relatives in Kanpur, Lucknow and Dehradun. Though this routine and this walk has happened before on several such days as today, this was the last one. I run right up the cool stairwell, mother would have already unlocked the door by now because of the dog. I do not think about the significance of the moment, but the last summer break has just begun.

Old Car Smell

The carcinogenic new car smell is often prized and romanticized, but we never mention the smell of old cars; part motor oil, part petrichor – the smell of the road and the trips it had been on. And now that too is a rarity to come across, because how the design of the vehicle-cabins has evolved.

In the years when cars did not ship at default with an air conditioner and all there was a fan, the body was not designed to seal the environment within the car from the elements, at least not in the same way as it is done today. And as the car would get older, the smell of the road crept in. The lack of comfort compared to the modern car could also be a sign of the machine being closer to its environment than it is now, distant from our range of comforts yet more truthful to what it was and which soaked in everything it had gone through. In these cars, just by the mere smell, one could accurately guess where they had been parked and whether people took care of them or not, or even whether they drove them too much or too little. Car fresheners would also ride the strong foundation of these natural smells, unlike today where they just hit you in the face with the sweaty smell of a closed air conditioned chamber. The only thing I can accurately guess in the modern car is whether someone ate an EggMcMuffin in it in the past two days. And maybe there is a hint of this old car smell on an old public bus, but it still lacks the personal character and lies in public space and use.

But hey, now we are far from that, cars are not cars anymore – just electric carts which you would not even have to drive in a few years. But blessed would be those who saw the automobile at its most raw – a man made machine which was very much a part of its environment, with its own unique smell. Among the various descriptable and undescriptable, tangible and intangible feelings of driving and owning a car, the smell will also be something we will miss when we entirely stop driving as a society.