Truth be told, India does not have much of a spring.
The Northern parts of the country, or those areas located at higher altitudes experience it but not the sun-battered-rain-soaked Gangetic plains, the dry north-west, the Deccan traps and certainly not the coastal regions. In fact, Spring is a short visitor to the major part of the subcontinent.
As a kid growing up in a city where humidity dominates the climatic chart for most part of the year, Spring meant a sudden end to pleasant weather of the last few months and two major festivals before the heat started going up again. Holi or the Festival of Colours is the bigger of the two festivals and falls usually in March. Sadly, my annual examinations would be around the same time so most Holi celebrations were jubilant study breaks. The next day at school would be quite a scene. Students sitting and looking around the examination hall, their anxiety for the test masked by badges of honour worn proudly on their faces and hands. The brighter the residue of colour, the better.
Spring in Calcutta was Holi and Koel, the latter being the official harbinger of the season in India. The male Asian Koel can be heard trying to serenade its mate relentlessly from March until the lack of water in peak summer forces it to shut up. Similar was the case in Bhuvaneswar, where I happened to be attending college. Both cities shared a similar climatic profile with Bhuavaneswar being closer to the coast. The weather used to be detestable during the day throughout the year but in the evenings, especially in Spring, a light breeze would blow and the surroundings would cool down drastically.
It was a strange breeze. I remember standing at the balcony of the library at night, watching the barn owls fly across the tennis courts to the rock garden near my department. That breeze made me feel very nostalgic, I still do not know why. It made me think of things that were, and things that would be. It made me want to call up home or old friends in different cities leading different lives. It made me want to call them up and hear their voices. The breeze was a premonition as if, an indication of things to change. It was therefore, fitting, it would be associated with nostalgia.
The next place I went to was markedly different from the two cities I inhabited earlier. Called the Scotland of the East, Shillong is a beautiful little town with splendid weather. Our campus used to be the summer palace of the Mayurbhanj Kings from Orissa. The last King who stayed there was a fan of Bentleys, birds, tennis and model airplanes. Even today, just outside the boundary wall near the Admin Block, where the rolling slopes with luxurious grass cover skirts the pine trees and goes down to meet the baskbetball court, there is a lone bird feeder, the only one remaining of the Maharaja’s many bird houses.
By middle of February, Shillong becomes very windy at night. The grounds of the campus would be littered with pine cones during the day. At night, you could hear the wind sing in the tall pines. Shillong was also the place where my interest in astronomy peaked, primarily because of clear skies and less light pollution than anywhere else. Spring meant the descent of Orion along the arc and the ascent of the most recognisable constellation for this Equinox- the Ursa Minor. There is many a fond memory of stargazing on those cold windy nights to the song of pine trees and to the visual poetry of the stars. Needless to say, it was enthralling.
A professor, who loved the February breezes as well, told us that the snows in the Himalayas start to melt around this time, just as the plains start heating up. It sets up a powerful convection current from the mountains to the plains. That, he said, explained the chill factor in the wind. The day before I was about to leave for my Summer Internship, I was standing at the ramp near the Old Boys’ Hostel when the wind was blowing in full force, rattling windows and shaking up branches and having leaves fly all across the badminton court down to the entrance to the Mess. Later that night I was walking around the campus with a friend and I remember wanting to keep walking. That was a strange night too, of stories and magic.
Spring this year has been less glamorous. It brought in chicken pox and crashed my plans of going for a trek. As I lay in bed, I got a mail inviting me to an alumni meet, drafted by the same professor I earlier talked about. He was writing about winds again, essentially the winds of change that have been blowing strong over our campus.
I have always believed time-travel is overrated, at least the physical part of it. It takes only a whiff of familiar scent once held dear, or the prelude of a song long since forgotten or a similar such sensory stimulus to open the floodgates of memories. Emotionally, a stray breeze coming in through the window could take me to Shillong. I might be lying on the bed with boils on my body and struggling in a weather fidgeting constantly between hot and cold, but the breeze has already carried me miles and months away to evenings of happy heartbeats, long walks, good music and great hope.
I do not know what change this Spring holds for me, what news of newness the breezes will bring, but this much I know. Spring for me will always be associated with dance of the pine cones, the twinkling of lights of the houses in the distance, a strong strong breeze that ruffled hair and held people close, rustled leaves and rattled panes and hearts. Summer, you might be the realist that Life needs, what with your foul-temper-inducing humidity and your pragmatism as fierce as the sun rays you bring, but I will never hate Spring for beginning stories that will eventually disappear like the evening breezes that stifle in the May heat.
Goodbye, Spring. Palash and Shimul may have taken over the city, painting the trees in shades of bright red. Coppersmith Barbets and Lesser Flamebacks are everywhere. The Purple Sunbird has eluded visibility so far this year but I am sure it is here too. Forgive me this is all very pretty, but my heart is inclined more towards overhanging blossoms of white over wooden fences and windy nights with clear skies.
But I need not miss Shillong a lot. There, a breeze blows again.