Given how much Americans profess to like the summer, it’s amazing that they always seek to terminate it so prematurely. Apparently summer ends at Labor Day Weekend. If you refer to the rest of the world, the movement of the planet through space, the resulting length of the day, or even the temperature, the autumn equinox has a far greater claim to marking the end of summer. But such trifling cosmic phenomena stand no chance when the factors in favour of the Labor Day definition are as weighty as “start of school” and “long weekend.”
For most adults, this truncation of summer adds further insult to the pre-existing injury of not having a summer vacation in the first place. Most of us are fortunate enough to enjoy summer through childhood and into adulthood. We continue to laze through summer in college (I hope), and some of us extend the irresponsible life through graduate school as well. It is after that that the first shocks of True Adult Life begin, and the lack of a summer vacation is a major bummer, especially in the first few years. Long summer vacations add punctuation to the dense prose that is the year. At their best, they convert it to poetry; at their worst, they render it readable. Without them, we are left with block after monolithic block of 12 months, with no end in sight.
In some ways though, childhood summers never truly leave us. They are burned into our memories. For me they taste of mangoes and smell of jasmine. They are filled with cousins and origami and books (lots of books), and long train journeys, with canvas bags hanging out the train window, the water in them cooling in the breeze — the strange-tasting water, filled up at some railway station I’ll never see again in my life. Those summers long ago also smell of wet earth, wafting up from the parched ground, as people come out of their houses in the evenings to water the garden after the scorching sun has gone down, and sit on their verandas, chatting. The scorching sun is not all bad though — women use it to thoroughly dry their annual stock of grains, lentils and dried red chillies and their daughters help them out, sometimes reluctant, sometimes enthusiastic. (Some daughters are crazy enough to walk barefoot on the blazing terrace, oh yes.) The summers also mean going to the local park to play and buying bhel from a stall afterwards, and later on automatically reading the scrap of newspaper that the bhel was wrapped in. Summer memories are so deeply written into me that even today when I see a grass lawn on a blazing hot day, my mind conjures up the smell of that bhel, the intervening years reduced to a mere blip. The summer then may seem so distant as to be unreachable from the summer now, but the yawning chasm of the years can be spanned with a single flash of memory.
This visceral connection with childhood summers that so many of us have makes it quite difficult to understand how it is that someone, somewhere, decided that adults don’t need a summer vacation. Whoever decided that, I’d like to give them a piece of my mind. Honestly I mean, what were they thinking? That adults don’t need long hours of doing nothing? That adults don’t need a time when they forget what day of the week it is because each day has the same one-point agenda of “no agenda”? Did they think that adults don’t like long train journeys? Or that adults won’t enjoy hanging out with friends in the neighbourhood, fooling around all day? Or maybe they thought that playing card games late into the night everyday for three months straight would be beyond a grown up, I can’t be sure. But clearly, whoever came up with this silly no-summer-vacation-for-adults scheme has forgotten their own childhood summers. And if I ever run into them, I know I’ll try to convince them of the error of their ways. With mangoes and bhel, and the fragrances of jasmine and wet earth, I know I cannot fail.