Once upon a summer, kunte-bille and kayyi tuthu

RANJANA RAO writes from New York City: I am Gulmohar—that’s my pen-name. Does it make you wonder what sort of a person I am? Female or male? Does it denote the tree or its beautiful flowers?

Why the hell would a person name herself after a tree anyways?

Gulmohar to me is a tag that denotes a “state of mind”. A state that I reminisce in the month of May; a state that I would love to go back to if possible; a state that I relive over and over again.

“May” holds a very special place in my heart. On a very superficial level, it is my birth-month; but I’d like to credit myself with a little more depth than that. In the past, May has ushered in some of the best days of my childhood. With the annual exams completed in March results out on April 10, May was usually the peak of summer vacations—one thing I miss dearly from my childhood.

I would give an arm and a leg to re-live the wonderful moments I enjoyed with my friends and cousins in those long summers.

In May, the resplendent Gulmohar trees would burst into bloom and cover my dear town—Mysore—in a floral canopy of crimson red. A gust of wind sprinkled these sashaying May-flowers to adorn the roads below, fill the air with a light fragrance, and usher a festive look.

My cousins and I spent many a summer days playing under these Gulmohar trees in a park close to my home. These magnificent trees staved off the harsh rays of the summer sun and created a gentle, translucent awning.

Innocence bloomed in this ornate canopy with intermittent sunlight.

We exchanged dolls, stories and glass bangle pieces. We drew a quick block of squares on the ground and were jumping all over it with “Am I right?” in kunte-bille (7 squares). While we stuck the long yellow calyx of the Gulmohars on our nails and pretended to be princesses with long nails, the boys would prance around imagining these as tiger claws and scaring the girls!

Every once in a while, we would tune our ears to the morning ragas we would otherwise miss during school time. The ragas were not just from Aakashvani.

Soppu; dantu, palak, menthya, pudina; soppu” a predictable vegetable vendor would chime the names of his greens.

Mango, ‘the fruit’ of Indian summers, would make its entry into the street and people would flock to make a good buy. Kids rushed in for the ever-popular totapuri raw mango with salt and chilli powder. From rag collectors to dasayyas with conches, a stream of humanity made their entries.

If we were lucky, we would run into the “Kole Basava”—an adorned bull with his multi-coloured embellishments accompanying his master with the volaga. The only bigger attractions than the Kole Basava were the snake charmers and the monkey handlers.

Lunch was quick—we did not want to lose out on the fun.

Once back, the afternoons were spent climbing the low branches of the Gulmohar, relishing tamarind rolls (with salt, chilli powder and jeera), poppins or the gaadi ice-candy. Half-hearted calls from moms to get in and take a nap expectedly fell on deaf ears. This was a time with not many rules.


It was the time of freedom, and everything seemed to be at a standstill. We caught what we thought were fishes (but were actually tadpoles) in a nearby pond, played hide and seek, buried our feet in the warm sand from a construction site next door, or searched for small conches and did craftwork. As the evening drew closer, we exchanged horror stories and waited for our dads to arrive home.

We said our goodbyes amid “bande ma, ondu nimisha” (coming mom) as our moms called out to us.

Each day brought with it, abundant stories of the day to narrate to our parents, irritating them while they tried hard to keep up with Nagabharana‘s or Ravi Kiran‘s TV serials.

The day would end with a simple dinner. If we had our cousins over, it was always “Kayyi Tuthu“—an elder sitting the kids in a circle and handing morsels of food to each by turns. Curd rice with nimbekayi uppinakayi (lime pickle) on a moonlit terrace with a faint, scented breeze.


If mangoes were for dessert, a tussle would ensue for the vaate (pit) while it was split up amongst the kids. Good times.

As we went to bed reminiscing the day, a cool breeze from the Gulmohars would flow in thru’ the open windows. Luckier teenage guys would take their roll-up beds to the terrace and sleep in the open beneath a star-lit sky.

As the day ended, a sense of contentment would wrap us like a blanket and a promise of another beautiful summer day tomorrow would fill our dreams.

Now, as I look back as an adult, the Gulmohar on our street and the park in front of us was our common denominator; a silent pillar of that beautiful summer scape that was my happiest. It was a state filled with no worries, abundant innocence, the sheer joy, gay abandon and lot of simple fond memories.

Memories, as much nurtured by the Gulmohars as by my loved ones.