Inside family photo albums, you’ll find pictures of me as a child playing on the grounds of the Taj Mahal. There are snaps of me posing shoulder-to-shoulder with my sister beneath a carved archway at Rambagh Palace. Turn the page and you’ll see shots of us with our parents seated and smiling next to 2-feet-long dosas at the Kovallam Beach Hotel.
Those were moments of unparalleled luxury and relaxation. And yet, they constituted a tiny fraction of our travels to India.
During our sojourns in the seventies and eighties, most of our time was spent en route to the homes of a myriad of relatives. The visits began with my parents’ many siblings. Then they moved on to a parade of their great aunts, favorite uncles and distant cousins whose names I was expected to produce when asked the dreaded question: “Do you know me?” Each morning after filling up on idlis or poota and hot tea, we would pack into a black Hindustan Ambassador operated by a driver capable of circumventing the hulking lorries, gaggles of school children, and stray dogs that shared the road. I was always crammed in the backseat with my sister, my mom, my paternal grandmother, and at least one other relative or friend who had decided to join us last minute.
We would crank open the windows to temper the tropic heat, but the unrelenting humidity left our necks, foreheads, and temples layered with sweat. When raindrops began to fall, as they always did during monsoon season, we would be forced to roll up the windows and cut off all airflow. Torrents of water blanketed the windshield slowing our pace, at times, to a standstill. Inside, the car became an oven and sweat pooled on our backs until they seemed suctioned to the car seats.
It was time for a cool drink.
It was time for a cool drink.
Back in southern Illinois, in the dump-and-stir era, Kool-Aid was the beverage of choice all summer long. Several times a week, my sister or I would stir water, sugar, and "lemon” flavored crystals together in a Tupperware tumbler to make "fresh" lemonade.
With little processed or packaged food in India at the time, Kool-Aid was not an option. Instead, at the homes we visited each day, we were served a snack, such as sliced mangoes, fried jackfruit, dhal fritters and gulab jamun and a hot cup of tea. Imagine that eight times a day. By early evening, I felt crazed by too much caffeine and the perpetual need to pee. If I complained enough, my dad would direct the driver to stop by a roadside stand lined with plain soda water, Thums Up, Campa Cola and Limca. He would buy us several bottled beverages to share. Although the drinks offered variety, they didn’t really quench my thirst.
What I needed was my Aunt Iysha’s limeade. Crisp and elemental, it called for three simple ingredients: water, lime juice, and cane sugar. When we arrived at her home, I knew she would graciously serve me a glassful.
INGREDIENTS3/4 cup lime juice
5 cups water
INSTRUCTIONSTo make simple syrup, heat 1/2 cup cane sugar and 1/2 cup of water over medium low heat. Cool completely.
Serve over ice.