[photo story - Nirmala Patil]
[Photo - Nirmala Patil]
Summer, like one word poetry, stirs so much in the heart. It comes, making its intense presence felt in its very coming. Nothing about this season spells subtlety. Mornings feel like the kindling of a fire, noons are fierce and parching, even the evenings and nights are unruly, furling earth’s dust in their wake. But they’re kinder than the day. And fleur-scented. I love summer’s abundance of flowers and the peals of laughter that fill the air as little children frolic outside all day and late into the night. It always brings back my own childhood summers. Of long school holidays spent wandering with friends and playing in aangans (tree-lined courtyards), hot afternoons relishing melons and mangoes, freshly plucked guavas and berries, and painting our tongues and fingertips purple with wild jamuns. Of going to summer fairs, visiting the zoo and having picnics in the park. Of eating ice creams and sweet dripping popsicles wearing summer flowers in our hair, taking up small jobs of making paper envelopes from used book pages for local shopkeepers to earn a little and save for the coming school year, and every night dining under starlit skies and ending our days with songs and stories.
I wish such summers for my daughter too; wild, carefree, brimming with friends and amidst the heart of nature. Nevertheless, I’m aware of its rarity in today’s world. Although children still flock outside more this time of the year, playing extensively and making the most of their end-of-the-school-year holidays, summer feels a little bland without its many-hued indulgence. Instead of whiling away most of their precious, untethered summer hours in front of the screen or wandering aisles in city malls playing electronic games and eating fast-foods in over-crowded food courts, I wish we could see more of our children playing hopscotch by the wayside or sitting under the shade of a tree making a sticky mess from a ripe mango. I wish we could reintroduce our young ones to traditional homemade refreshments, fragrant of summertime, like nimbu pani (Indian lemonade), chaas (spiced buttermilk), lassi (sweetened yogurt drink), shrikhand (strained yogurt desert), aam panna (raw mango sherbet), kulfi (frozen dairy desert) and falooda (sweet basil seeds and rose syrup drink); letting them help us cut fruits and stir as we make, in lieu of store bought aerated drinks and processed treats. And instead of frequenting cafes and restaurants, I wish we could gift our children habitual visits to the parks and gardens, have afternoon picnics on the grass and alfresco dinners under the canopy of stars.
Summer… the season of blossoming branches, bees and butterflies, of flower-carpeted grounds, of long light-filled days to make merry with family and friends, of sweet-nectar fruits, of waking up to the song of the morning birds, and sometimes, if the sky’s in the mood, of summer storms anointed with rainbows to look forward to. Isn’t it a glorious picture to behold? A perfect antidote to the season’s unforgiving heat. The very thought of it comes to echo in me the notes of a koel (Indian cuckoo) singing from the deep shade of a neem tree and leaves me yearning to initiate my four-year old into the art of making summer memories. So this year and in the summers to come, there will be an abundance of seasonal fruits to stain her hands and heart, summers flowers to perfume her tresses, picnics with friends and dinners in the balcony drinking in the far-scented evening breeze. We will be splashing in the pool, gathering fallen flowers from bejeweled trees, going on evening rides to watch summer sunsets and savoring unthinkable amounts of nariyal pani (tender coconut water), and when night falls, we’ll garnish our brimming day with a sweet dose of storytelling.
What memories do summer awaken in you? And how do you hope to guide your children to live and celebrate its poetry to the fullest?
[Photo - Nirmala Patil]
It’s the first day of phalguna, the last month in the Hindu lunar calendar. she comes running to me in the kitchen and taking me by my hand, she ushers me to the balcony and exclaims excitedly pointing her finger towards a lone mango tree faraway on the hill, ‘ma look, there are new leaves being born on that mango tree! It means it’s soon going to be spring, isn’t it?’ Such a small observation, but when my little girl of four makes it, I’m filled with joy and sweet pride. Because this is the kind of relationship with nature I’ve always hoped to cultivate in my daughter. The kind where she can learn to understand it’s language and realise that life is most beautiful when lived embracing nature. Especially in our present world that desperately needs us to care and retrace our unmindful ways.
And as we attempt to mend our damaging habits with simple sustainable practices, it is deeply essential that we raise our children with the same thoughtful awareness. And this, I believe, is only possible by encouraging and nurturing a genuine love for nature in the heart of our little ones. As an urban family living in the thick of high rises (as I think would be the case of many families dwelling in cities), bringing in nature inside our home and lifestyle has been the most organic way of sowing that seed of love into the core of my daughter’s being.
Even if only limited to visiting a society garden, or simply wandering the tree-lined streets in the locality, here are a few gentle rituals we’ve included in our everyday that helps engage our little girl with nature.
Making regular trips to the playground and letting her play and frolic among the green and growing things is an intrinsic part of a her small world. The wind in her hair, the grass under her feet and mud between her fingernails are not only health boosting and a fun way of introducing good bacteria into my child’s system, but is also the most organic way of nurturing a growing friendship between her and the natural world.
Going on slow seasonal walks is both educating and therapeutic to a child’s mind. We go in search of frogs and moss in the rains, and look for pale new shoots sprouting through the earth during springtime. As my little girl observes and takes note of all the changing details, her inherent curiosity is beautifully exercised too. Carrying a basket or a cloth bag on our walks to gather and bring home an abundance of nature treasure is always an additional delight. Older children can also be encouraged to bring along a camera or book to document/journal findings.
Creating a small dedicated place either by a corner, windowsill or a table space can be a lovely way of letting our children display their gathered nature treasures and engage in creativity. An assortment of pebbles, seed pods, feathers and fallen leaves arranged by little hands makes for a happy, colourful art on our nature window. And it inspires hours of imaginative play indoors.
For our little ones, having a tiny garden of their own to tend to is something quite special. Be it a small patch on the balcony, a dedicated container/tray growing a few easy to tend plants, or only a single pot, it a most intimate and tender way of teaching them to care. We recently gifted our daughter a succulent. And every time watching her excitedly watering and holding conversations with it, is a thing of joy.
Learning to create with natural things and giving it as gifts to others will perhaps be the fundamental of all the environmental friendly things our children will grow up to do all throughout their lives. Leaf and rock painting, weaving floral garlands and wreaths, making pressed flower cards for friends and family, however imperfect are all small acts of thoughtful creating and giving. Encouraging this, gives them the right roots early on.
Outside on the hill, as those new born leaves herald spring and a sweet anticipation for the coming mango season, inside our home, and I hope in every home, our little ones are blossoming into nature lovers and learning to live an echo-rich life.