The first summer that I spent diving in the Lakshadweep islands was one of the best summers of my life. A bouquet of surf and sand filled the air, a fragrance that is deeply entrenched in my memory. Whenever I step on to any coral reef island anywhere in the world, the first thing that returns is that smell… and then a silly grin that I find hard to wipe off my face. We were a bunch of loons who had been given the keys to God’s playground. We would dive, surf on kayaks, go fishing, capsize sailboats, snorkel the reefs and light reefers as the sun went down. When the afternoons got too hot, we would cram into a small hut and watch re-runs of the few scratched DVDs we had. We would sleep under a blanket of stars, as the sound of the waves would roll into our dreams.
These were summers filled with wonderment and simplicity, with wild laughter and saltwater kisses.
“It is June. This is what I have decided to do with my life just now." Those are the opening lines from Elizabeth Hardwick’s novella, Sleepless Nights. I put those lines in the first draft of what became my novel The Lovers. It was June and I had a month-long residency at Yaddo in upstate New York. My room was the one in which, I was told, Philip Roth had written The Breast. I would look out of the window and feel despair; there was the anxiety of creation but also guilt. I had left my kids behind. It was a turning point, that summer.
Juhi Chaturvedi, screenwriter, summer of 1985
‘I had never seen such magnificence before’
It was the summer of 1985, Himachal Pradesh. In those days, we used to travel only to places where we had relatives. Salaries in the 1980s were barely satisfactory after all. And thanks to my grandparents on either side, they had produced quite an army, so we had aunts and uncles pretty much all over the country. But none at 13,050ft above sea level. There was just snow all around. Oxygen at the Rohtang Pass was as scarce as other humans. I was crying. Not because I was cold but because the sight of this white desert was too overwhelming for me. I had never seen such magnificence before. Something inside felt extremely liberating. They say mountains have a way of calling you back and I ended up tying my life to a pahadi! Lesson I learnt: Summer destinations must be planned with utmost care.
Garima Arora, chef, summer of 2004
‘I tried my first hot pot’
My first trip to Singapore 15 years ago was the summer where I tried my first hot pot, and it changed the course of my life. I still remember the beautiful chaos of vegetables, meat and sauces.... Up until then, I had only been a spectator in the kitchen, watching my father whip up exotic dishes. You can ask my parents and they would say they had never seen me cook in the kitchen before that trip. After I came back to Mumbai, I recreated that dish and the experience first for my family. This grew into hot- pot parties and a habit of cooking regularly. That was when I realized how much I enjoyed expressing myself through food. Thereafter, when I decided to go to Le Cordon Bleu to study, my father was completely supportive of my decision. And I haven’t stopped cooking since.
Sudarshan Shetty, artist, summer of 1987
'I was young and broke'
It was in the months of the severe Ahmedabad heat and dust, the summer of 1987, that I moved to the Kanoria Centre for Arts to work. I was young and broke. Without a paisa in my pocket, I lived on the generosity of fellow artists for the materials to work with; on the university mess contractor Manwar Singh for food; and on the uncertain promise of a slightly more prosperous future.
Strangely, it was also a quiet, deeply thoughtful time, overall, one of the happiest ever. I was producing a great deal and formulating thoughts that would shape my current work. Sometimes, when you have nothing, you could feel like the richest in the world.
Floyd Cardoz, chef, summer of 1995
'I realized I should focus on Indian food’
In the summer of 1995, my mother, Beryl, visited the US. This was the first time my mother met (my son) Peter and it brought a realization that I had a next generation in my family. Thoughts of my growing-up years and spending time with my mother, her mother and my great-grandmother filled my memory. I was reminded of lazy days spent in Goa. I reminisced about the food we ate, the stories that were told. I was afraid that my children would not have these experiences or connection to India, its food or culture. I realized I should focus on Indian food and learn to push the boundaries of my cooking. In some way that pushed me on this path of spreading the word and practising Indian food. Three years later, I opened Tabla.
Anita Nair, writer, summer of 1980
'The voice in my head was silenced’
My older brother Sunil and I were spending the vacation in my grandmother’s house. I wanted to learn everything she knew: how to make a broom from coconut frond spines; how much to feed the cows before bedtime; how to score the veins off a betel leaf.
It was also how I could quell the voice in my head that said you are going to have to decide what to do next. For I was going into class X. Sunil was in medical college and it was a foregone conclusion that I would follow him. One evening, my grandmother was busy with guests. I told my brother about a long-form article I had read about the Mormons. Sunil listened carefully. When I was done, he smiled, “You should be a writer. I read the same article but you put it across so much better."I looked at him, “That’s who I want to be." The voice in my head was silenced forever. I had my epiphany on what my life path was going to be.
Astha Bhutail, artist, summer of 2017
'It reaffirmed my faith in human kindness'
It was in May 2017 that I was selected for the BMW Art Journey. That summer kick-started this amazing exploration through memory and living traditions, passed on through chants and oral poetry, in parts of Iran, India and Jerusalem. Not only was I traversing through three different terrains, and the oldest cultures in the world, but the experience also reaffirmed my belief in human kindness. It was quite difficult to make the connections, but once people were convinced of my project, I was welcomed with open arms. People were generous with their love and time, often granting me an audience for hours together.
Madhav Raman, architect, summer of 2001
'A hard reality check'
Nothing could have signified the end of college more than the move out of the hostel at the School of Planning and Architecture to a new house. It was a day of drastic changes, as that very night, Vaibhav (Dimri, co-founder, Anagram Architects) and I had to travel to Bengaluru for the inspection of a residential site. The idea was to dump our things at the house—which was in a barely livable condition, given that we hadn’t cleaned it—and run to the New Delhi railway station. For some reason, Vaibhav managed to get on to the train and I got left behind. At 23, there couldn’t have been a better lesson about the fact that things can come crashing down very quickly. It was a hard reality check.