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When I think of summer, my mind’s eye gazes on scenes from other times, forever resident in the archives of my memory.

I see the family sheep, Curly, swimming with the family dog, Bimbo, in an ancient well on a hot, still Deccan day. I hear the clack of marbles that I religiously clean and put away every night. I see the silent tombs of sultans buried, I hear the stories of sultanates lost and won. I can still smell the 1970s; paya, that rich soup of trotters, and the fragrant, spicy biryani of Gulbarga, Karnataka, which last week was one of the hottest places in India.

I see the great, green expanse of Cubbon Park, Bangalore; the seasonal death of the jacaranda and the birth of the crumpled, pink-lavender Queen’s flower. I see dosas being delivered to our tables under lush, living canopies of creepers, swept away, each one, by progress. I can taste the rich pork curries from Mangalore and Coorg (now Kodagu), as I can the special Eid haleemof Bangalore.

Flavours of a season: The heat should not stop you from cooking. Get into your kitchen, triumph over the warm winds and create an archive of life. Photo by Thinkstock

I see the open spaces and big skies of Missouri in the American Midwest, where I eat 99-cent (around Rs50) McDonald’s burgers because it is all I can afford (which is not to say I do not enjoy them). I feel my surprise at the humidity and heat that follows a long, freezing winter. I see the superstore on the edge of town. I see the cheap catfish and cheaper pork brain.

I can smell the 1990s, endless rounds of barbecued meat marinated with whatever spices I have at hand, immersed in whatever liquor I drink. I open my eyes while lying under the big oak tree outside a library in Columbia, Missouri, and meet a man who becomes a close friend.

“Well, it’s mine as well," I respond.

He frowns and asks, “Are you from the Third World?"

He is too, a South African, who grew up in the township of Soweto. He asks if I can cook biryani. I never have, but I invite him over and I do.

I see the smiling faces of my nosy, generous Punjabi landlords and ladies in Delhi, asking why I return from office so late. I smell the paneer, chholey and chapatti being shoved at me by Mrs Malhotra from a window in the kitchen wall. I smell my own cooking in the makeshift kitchen out on the terrace of my top-floor barsati flat. I like my roast mutton and fish curries, and I dish them out by the kilogram for the stream of visitors, all of us sweating, smoking, drinking and eating in the furnace that is Greater Kailash-I, made worse by the smoke from a thousand generators trying to stave off one of the worst summers on record. I recall love gained and lost, passions found and expended.

I see my aunt ahead of me, visiting the garrulous Koli (fisher) women of Grant Road Market, Mumbai, on a sweaty summer morning. I smell the 2000s, dried prawns from Mumbai’s fishing villages and fresh fish from Machiwala Mohammed, the hard-working Bihari fishmonger. I smell my latest attempts in the kitchen, the roast chicken, lamb and duck, lapped in freshly ground spices and Old Monk rum. As the decade wears on, I see new flats, cities and people, gaining a wife and child but keeping up the nomadic life, registering my 28th home in life.

Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.

It is a season I treasure, for it is when I have done my best cooking, when I have wiped endless lines of sweat from my brow, when I have ignored the power cuts and the flies and stood there, feeling like one man against the elements, unbowed.

All right, so I exaggerate a bit. But I hope you understand.

So, wriggle out of the air-conditioned bubble that surrounds you in the summer, and you will find the kitchen a good place to challenge your mind, body and faculties. Shop, chop, baste, marinate, sauté and stir.

There is a reason why there is nothing more memorable than the memory of a fragrance, a smell and a meal, why summers tend to stay more eternal than winters, why a year without summer is like a life without love.

At the end of a summer’s day, you must produce a meal with flavours more intense than ever. Have a bath. Cool off. Eat what you have cooked, feed your friends and family. There is no better way to experience the summers of our lives.

Samar Halarnkar is consulting editor, Mint and Hindustan Times. He is presently a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley. Write to him at ourdailybread@livemint.com

Also Read | Samar’s previous columns

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