It was a hot summer night. Jaie switched on the air conditioner and sprayed her favourite room freshener in the bedroom. Her children were already asleep, tired from playing all day long in the heat. It was their summer vacation and she didn’t have the heart to stop them from enjoying their childhood. After switching off all the lights in the house, she entered the now cool bedroom and settled down on the bed next to her husband. He was surfing through TV channels trying to find something interesting to pass the time before they fell asleep. She picked up her kindle and resumed reading a story about floral landscapes in Scandinavia. Her tired body and sleepy mind pushed her down the memory lane and she allowed herself to reminisce about her childhood.
The housing society where her parents lived used to have a giant prajakta tree right outside their bedroom window. It was an era when everyone slept with fans on full and windows all the way open. Homes in that time did not have air conditioners. Jaie remembered the refreshing fragrance of the prajakta flowers spreading a divine scent through the rooms pushing out the uncomfortable smells of day long sweat. The agarbattis (essence sticks) that her mother lit in the evenings would run out of fragrance long before it was time to sleep.
She walked further down the memory lane and saw her childhood friends… the summer vacations spent together. The days full of playtime. How they would all wake up around seven am to the melodious songs playing on the radio. Some the songs heard in those waking moments still had the power to bring Jaie out of her deepest miseries and troubles. After a shower, Jaie would fetch loads of flowers from the flower trees across the society for her grandmother. In her mind’s eye, she could still see the beautiful flowers in their myriad hues – Aboli (firecracker flower), Anant (Gardenia), Gulmohar (Royal Poinciana), Hibiscus, Jasmine, Nishigandha (tuberose) Prajakta (night-flowering jasmine), Champa (marigold), Sadaphuli (periwinkle), ratrani (night cestrum)… Jasmine remained her favourite even today as it was the English name of the flower Jaie. She felt very much in tune with the flower that was her namesake. After helping her grandmother in the daily puja, she would go down to play with her friends. The early morning dewy grass felt fabulous to her. She always felt as if God had created a lush green moist carpet just for her – to take away the heat of the summer sun. As the sun would begin to rise higher in the sky, all the children would head home to eat breakfast. After her breakfast, Jaie would stay back home for a while to see her mother off to office. She would go down to play as soon as her parents left for work. By now, the sun would be hot enough to burn, the children would move into the shade of the many huge trees in the housing society. The group of Gulmohar trees was their favourite place to play for there was a lot of shade afforded by the giant trees and the fallen gulmohar flowers felt to their innocent minds like a lush red carpet. The huge trees made a perfect hiding spot, and hide and seek was the favourite mid-morning game of all the children.
Lunch time was a slightly longer break and all the children would normally stay back home till late afternoon to enjoy some cool breeze under the fans. Most of them would have lunch and meet up in the house of one child. Jaie often loved to use this time to indulge in her passion – reading. After her grandmother fell asleep, Jaie would sneak to the devara (temple) and pick up the mini-pothis kept there. She rarely understood much of what she was reading, but she enjoyed trying to make sense of the ancient scriptures nonetheless. After about an hour of reading, Jaie would call out to her grandmother that she was heading to her friend’s place to play. The children would play teacher-teacher, house, cards and indoor games at such time. Very often, the children chose to play outside the door, but well inside the entrance of the numerous buildings in the society. They liked to pretend that this was their villa and that they were having guests over. Come evening, a little snack and the children would all be out in full force to play again. Cycles, cricket bats, badminton rackets and such equipment would be out in all its splendour each evening with all the children taking turns to share and play.
Looking back, Jaie realised that all the residents of the society had probably had an unwritten, unspoken rule – the parents would provide evening snacks each day by turns. She now remembered having enjoying the spicy theplas (rolled flat bread) made by a friend’s ba, yet another tamilian friend’s amma had served up crunchy murukkus (fried lentil snack) , a keralite friend’s home always had a ready stock of softest and fluffiest idlis (steamed rice cakes), a Bengali friend’s mother had once given her fried brinjal slices, her own aaji always handed out the tastiest besanache laadu (sweet chickpea balls), there was a Christian friend whose mother always dished up delicious warm cupcakes, while a sikh friend’s mother was ready with paronthe (rolled stuffed flat bread), there was even a Jewish friend whose mother made the world’s best honey challah rolls. To Jaie’s taste-buds, the sheer-korma that a muslim chachi always offered the children at Eid was unparalleled even today. Her parsi friend’s mother made the yummiest dhansak.
Thinking back to those yummy snacks eaten in the homes of her friends, made Jaie’s mouth water. She realised that she was a culmination of all these cultures. She felt grateful at having been exposed to a huge variety of people, lifestyles and cultures since a young age, due to which she had become non-judgemental and accepting of individualism. She looked at her sleeping children and realised how much today’s generation missed out on fun simply because fun came so easy to them. They had seen challah rolls only in shops and had no idea of the difference in the tastes between the theplas made by a ben and their mother. Though not a linguist, she could at least understand most of the conversation in most of the various Indian languages and their dialects. She felt sad for them that they only knew to buy flowers from the flower vendors and did not get to relish the simple joy of walking barefeet on dewy grass, plucking flowers, enjoying the fragrances. Though she and her husband were strict about TV times and such, Jaie realised that her childhood had been better thanks to the absence of artificial sources of entertainment. She could not recall a single moment where she had felt bored during her vacations. She compared her childhood to that of her offsprings and realised that it was her generation that was the culprit.
‘We bring them things even before they realise they want them,’ she thought to herself. ‘But today’s generation needs to be tech-savvy. They have to be able to use the various gadgets for the future of the world is in gadgets,’ argued her modern mind. ‘True, but at what point should they stop? Why do they need a calculator for a simple addition?’ questioned her rustic self. ‘There’s no stopping them. Why use your brain when you have gadgets to serve the purpose?’ fought back the modern mind. ‘You know the adage: The lesser you use the brain, the more rusty it gets,’ warned the rustic mother. ‘But they need to be self dependent in today’s tough competitive world,’ tempted the modern urban lady in her. ‘Precisely why they need to reduce their dependence on gadgets and increase the same on themselves!’ shot back the ancient wisdom in her. ‘Isn’t it better to let them use gadgets and be self content than have them behind your back asking for entertainment?’ smirked the modern urban mother. ‘Why can’t they just use their imagination to rustle up their own entertainment?’ fought the rustic lady valiantly. “Are you ok? Why are you tossing and turning so much?” Jaie opened her eyes to see her husband look at her worriedly. She told him about her internal turmoil and he started laughing at her. “Que sera sera mon amour! What will be will be!” he replied with a smile. “Our times were different. Traffic was much less and galli-cricket was an easy option. No one was rich enough to have to worry about kidnappings and ransoms. Moreover, the children from one area and locality normally went to one common school unlike today’s kids who go to different schools, each a ‘private international school’, each the best and most expensive one. They are exposed to materialistic competition right from the crib with us buying them the best brands of clothes, toys, prams and even milk bottles!” She was amazed. “You are right. But what is the solution? Do we let them become gadget dependent? Or do we pull away the gadgets?” she wondered. “Neither. We can only decide what is best for our children, draw a line, occasionally allowing it to stretch either way,” he suggested. “Yes, overindulgence and abstinence are both extreme. We will have to draw a middle line, and the line will keep changing, shortening, elongating over time as they grow up,” she agreed. “Okay then, now that that’s settled, I have a surprise for you,” he smiled. He went out of the room for a few minutes, and came back in hiding something behind him. As she looked at him in askance, he drew his hand forward and she had tears in her eyes… he had bought her a string of her favourite flowers – a mix of jasmine, prajakta and aboli. He knew she loved to sleep with the string next to her bedside in the summer months. It was a part of her childhood that she had firmly clung to. She gleefully accepted his gift and carefully placed it on the nightstand next to her pillow. That night, Jaie’s sweet dreams were laced with the heavenly fragrances from her childhood… by the flowers gifted to her by her husband.