The start of summer meant exams. We always looked forward to exams in the lower classes; they never really failed you, or at least you knew you wouldn’t be failed. There were a few students who had trouble during the various tests and we wondered if we would see them the next year in class. But, we would always turn up with a self-addressed blue inland letter, which cost 75 paisa, before the exams. Sometime in April, I’d see the postmen sitting in the shade of the Sampige tree in the compound, sorting their letters, and they would hand out the same inland letter, now stamped outside. There would be a bit of needling and teasing, asking for sweets before handing out the letter. I would open it to see one word stamped in all that space “PROMOTED” and continue playing through the summer, the letter barely registering – a brief interruption in the business of the summer holidays, reminding me of School and the resumption of that business come June. Life was all about Summer holidays with the school year interrupting them in between.
March would mean turning up with the letter, then the cessation of classes, winding down with “revisions” of everything that had been taught over the year. We would then study in parallel and turn up with “hall tickets” stuck on “ruts” (the wooden clipboards to write on). The best scenario would be having the exams in the afternoons, so that we could study in the morning, do a few “revisions” and walk through the hot afternoon to School, run around playing cricket with the ruts and then sit for the exams and regurgitate everything that was “by-hearted” over the past day or two. Summer meant that there’d be no dragonflies zipping around the ground. Those were mostly the feature of the mid-term exams during the end of September. We would run around and try to hit one with the ruts – success was extremely rare, they were too fast and too high for us. They made their appearance as the Monsoons wound down and in that gap between the South-West and the North-East versions. Around winter, and the Christmas holidays, they would disappear, reappearing only the next September.
Around the end of the exams, especially after the main business of Maths and Science was done, we would have the easier topics – General Knowledge and Moral Science, and maybe Drawing. As we finished those, we would walk back during the evenings or the afternoons, as these would usually be in the mornings. Sultan Road with two school compounds on both sides – St. Joseph’s (boys’) and St. Theresa’s (girls’). The road was (and thankfully still is for the most part) lined with rain-trees and their pods would litter the ground. Long and black, we would collect them and put them in our bags or carry them in our hands – plastic covers were yet to make their now ubiquitous appearance.
The next few days as the exams crept out of our minds, and the 2 months of summer holidays to look forward to sunk in, we would pull these pods out of their hiding places. The rims on the sides were taken out, the seeds removed and a stone conjured from somewhere. We would then grind them into a paste and roll the paste into a ball. A little bit of coconut oil was inveigled from the kitchen and rubbed on the surface. The balls would be placed in the Sun and we hoped that the summer showers wouldn’t ruin them. A day or two later, they’d be ready and fit – “Cork balls“. The bounce would be tested and found not enough. They were relegated to special times, when we could play catch or just be, something to hold on to as you went about the business of wasting time doing nothing.
An uncle’s bike would be cleaned, or some shoes would be polished, and Rs. 2 earned. A rubber ball would be bought, the sticker of an elephant balancing on a ball, on it. The stumps planted, the leftover pages from the notebooks pulled out to keep score, as the game of Cricket began in earnest for the Summer. A few weeks on, the Cork balls would be forgotten, and lost. A mental note made to get more pods from near the School when in that vicinity – a quarter kilometre away. Invariably, that never happened, and you never went that way, being never on the way to anywhere. Visits to the grandparents’ place in Srinagar or to Ulsoor would happen. Aprils would give way to May, and School would start throwing a longer shadow on the proceedings so far. The rains would begin as you stayed in binding books or looking at uniforms. We went back in June to old friendships and new – a note of who all made it, who moved to other schools, newer transfers, and left back bullies.
The rain-trees continued to throw their shades over the road, but the pods were never there. Or maybe we never looked for them, knowing that they were pointless in any time other than summer. After all, March always came sooner or later and the pods would be lying there, black and gleaming, inviting you to take them home and “jujj” them, and craft them into Cork balls.