The summer time in Kolkata was idyllic.
Every year in May, my mother, my brother and I would travel to the city and spend 2 whole blissful months there. Since there was no television in the house, the long, hot afternoons would be spent playing with cousins or cooking up some trouble. The curtains would be drawn, and the carrom board would be out on the floor. There would be Ludo and card games and there would be a huge pitcher full of homemade lemonade.
There was also another event that all of us would wait for every day. At exactly 4.30 pm, we would hear a strange guttural sound from the distance. " Ice-creeeeam wallah...Kwality ice-creeeeam..." That cry was what we waited to hear every day. A shabbily dressed man of indiscriminate age pushing a cart through the neighborhood and calling to the children. We would scamper down and order what our budget permitted. An orange bar which cost 25 paise. It was a princely sum those days, specially when you consider the fact that we had an ice cream almost every day. When an uncle or an aunt came to visit us, we would shamelessly ask for a special treat, a choco bar which cost Rs 1.50. That day was like a celebration.
The parents trusted only Kwality's, my mother thought any other ice-cream was made with gutter water. The image of someone making ice cream with sewage water and dirty ice was so horrifying that even looking at some other carts gave us stomach cramps. So every evening, Kwality's it was. The guy would stop at our doorstep and look up hopefully, knowing full well there would a small army of children noisily descending down the stairs. My brother, who hated orange flavour would always ask for a chocolate bar and for some reason my mother always indulged him. I strongly suspect she was biased towards her first born, but that is of course another story.
In Delhi, there was another popular brand, called Gaylord's. Now when I think about the name, it makes me burst into laughter. But those days our vocabulary was pitifully limited and we never thought about the significance of the name. Every year they would run a promotional campaign to con us into buying more from them. Some book where we would have to stick hundred stickers.Or save the wrappers of the ice creams for some prize. It goes without saying that we never managed to win anything. But the ice cream memories were priceless. Sticky fingers, dripping cream, orange tongue, and the fine art of finishing off the ice cream before the hot Delhi sun melted it down. I did not care about the hygiene or the man's filthy fingers or even those sometimes dirty wooden spoons to scoop out the ice creams. I would continue to lick even when the poor spoon broke down filling my mouth with tiny fragments of soft wood. Precisely why I personally think I never had typhoid or jaundice or even mild diarrhoea.
The ice cream experience is different these days. There are hardly any hand carts to be seen and we go to sanitised air-conditioned parlours that boast of hundreds of flavours. Names I had not even heard of in my childhood. Tiramisu. Kiwi. Hazelnut. My ice cream vocabulary had never gone beyond orange, vanilla and chocolate. The men (or women) serve wearing disposable rubber gloves, no dirty fingernails visible. They ask if you want an ordinary or a waffle cone (never knew about that too) and are kind enough to give you tissues to wipe those sticky fingers. There is an alternative to licking your fingers clean that I never knew existed in my childhood. The prices are unimaginable. A small, tiny cup is now Rs 60. On a single day my children spend twice as much as we did on our entire vacation.
The idyllic days of summer are long gone. Nobody stays home playing ludo with cousins anymore. We are all very busy zipping off to exotic locales for our summer vacations. The Kwality's that we knew is long gone, taken over by an international giant. But on a hot day, under the scorching sun, I still stop by, with my kids, to indulge my taste buds. Take a stick of coco-vanilla, lick it, swirl it around my tongue and savour the taste of unadulterated joy. "Ice-creeeam..."
Some children obviously never grow up.