I loved to hear her tales. They sounded almost unbelievable at times. Especially my favorite one, where a famous robber was attacked during the village fair in front of both my grand parents and she swore that even though his head was loped off, the man ran headless all over the place, drenching everything in a fountain of fresh, warm blood, scaring the hell out of everyone because he was still clutching his sword and slashing it about. According to her, it went on for a while till he finally fell down and died.
I would never have believed it possible if I had not been to a scene of a similar crime in Delhi years later as a reporter on Sunday duty. A cop had killed his wife by her slashing neck almost severing her head off. The wife had put on a brave fight for survival when she held on to the almost-severed head with blood gushing from it like a geyser and run around the corridor of the building knocking doors, seeking help. I saw enough gore the next morning to believe both stories to be true.
Sometimes I feel that the seeds for the love of magic realism and surrealism were firmly planted during those story-telling sessions. My mother's ma used to read out from her collection of what is now known as paranormal fiction. Her haul included, Alif Laila, Thakumar Jhuli and other such collections full of ghosts, demons and goblins all set to tilt the world order on one hand and adventurous, courageous and swashbuckling romantics who always found their love in the end along with enormous riches, on the other.
The fact remains that those two ladies had planted the seed of storytelling inside me, all those years ago during those lazy Summer afternoons.
Stories are what I love to hear, to read and now, to tell. So, those long ago Summer vacations are where the Big Bang of my storytelling universe must have really happened.
Summers was an excellent time to read and dream. They are the best times to be out in the nature even in a city like Delhi that is almost as hot as Hell.
The night sky those days, would almost always be clear dark cobalt blue with a hint orange from the hanging-in-the-air sand of the Thar waiting to plunge the city in a dusty cover. Mostly the dust storms came in the evenings.
It started with dark clouds gathering overhead and a thin whiff of sweet wind teasing our senses. This was the moment when I'd take my book and skip out to the huge terrace to read and day dream.
While, soothing after a day of relentless heatwave, this would only be the prelude to the real deal. Soon big fat drops of rain would start falling and even before I could run for cover clutching my book to my stomach and running, cool fresh water would be trickling down my neck into my back wetting my spine.
At this point, ma would appear at the terrace door to call me in and I'd collapse into her, shrieking with joy, my hair rushing in behind me in a tangle.
Inside, I'd perch myself next to the window clutching the now-forgotten book, waiting for the real drama to begin.
The dust would rush in with the speed of lightening painting me in grime and ma hearing the noise would run in to the room and prying the catch from my struggling hands would bang it in place and shut the window, glaring at me all the while.
It was icky being covered in desert sand. It scratched the eye and tickled the nose. It also went into the mouth and made me bite - dust.
So, I'd make a contrite face that made ma go back looking for the broom to clean the dusty floor while I waited for the grand finale...
The most spectacular part of a summer storm is the lightening and the subsequent deluge.
Itchy with grime and scratchy all over I'd wait for the climax. When it finally came, it would make visibility zero for a few minutes and the only discernible thing in the sky were the thick streaks of light that cut it from side to side. Sheets of rain would fall making the wind run off with a whoosh, bathing the dry, gritty dust in water to make it submit, washing it off down the storm water drains. The divine odor of wet grime on the sizzling sidewalk would fill the atmosphere making me take several deep breaths and run around the room with my hands in the air like in a trance.
Often my little sister would join in giggling and we'd continue the ritual together, arms up in the air, deep breaths in and running around in circles, whirling like dervishes. Hearing all that naughty noise, ma would call her name and my little sister would run back to her while I was left looking for the right moment to flee - out!
Making sure that ma was indeed working in the kitchen, I'd tip-toe to the terrace door and open it a bit. The lashing rain would immediately welcome me with a cool spray and make me giggle. The giggle would be enough to make ma aware of the latest mischief but, before she could run out to catch me by the tail of my frock, I'd be out with the brick on the floor scratching my soft jumping feet. And there would be crowns all around me.
Raindrops falling on the water that would have collected on the terrace floor would resound with a thousand plops and make a million crowns that rose and fell within seconds.
The water would soak me to my bones and drench my dirty dress and make me happy, very happy because ma would be standing at the door with a hand on her hips and the other, restraining my younger sister from lunging into the water with me. I knew I was safe because she would never come out in the water nor leave the door in case I slipped and fell.
Did I say, Summer vacations were the best?!