Arjun and Meenu looked like they would soon break out into a fist-fight! The sweltering heat had forced them to stay indoors - which meant arguments and fights.
"Cool off, kids!" Amma dragged them apart. "You'll sweat even more with the effort..."
"Here, drink this" Grandma commanded. "Good for pitta..."
"That's the fire element governing metabolism and digestion." Grandpa said before Arjun or Meenu could raise a question. "Increased pitta dosha in summer causes irritability and anger. It also causes problems like heartburn, excessive body heat and sweating, rashes, prickly heat and acne, excessive stomach acidity, ulcers and dry hair."
"Wow, Grandma! This is so cool! What's it called?" Arjun asked, sipping a drink as he listened to Grandpa. Grandma who had been serving a "summer special" every day, beamed. "Jaljeera. It's got black salt, salt, dry mango, cumin, citric acid, mint leaves, black pepper, dry ginger, asafoetida, and other 'cooling' spices"
"So many ingredients!" Meenu said. "Yesterday's spiced buttermilk was yummy too!"
Grandpa cut in. When are you going to make Panna?"
"You mean Paanaham? We had that for Ram Navami, remember, " Mummy asked. "That's made with dried ginger, lime juice and jaggery."
"No. Panna is made from raw mangoes." Grandma explained "That's nature's wonder-a supply of fruits and vegetables that perfect for each season! And ancestors have prescribed 'cool menus' for all the summer festival
"Cool as a cucumber, eh? '' Grandpa laughed. "Juicy melons and mangoes, watery-gourds and tender coconuts, herbs like neem mint and tulsi... Grandma's coolers could hit the Pepsi-s and Coke-s of the world for a helicopter-shot to the boundary - Dhoni style!"
"Of course!" said Grandma "Carbonated, artificially-flavoured drinks cause indigestion during summer and can be harmful for the liver. Caffeinated drinks are equally bad. Fruit juices, lassi, rose milk- these drinks are ideal. In fact, plain water from my earthen pot is cooler tastier and purer than all your chemical drinks," she proclaimed.
Grandpa agreed. "No matter how tightly you pack the mud, there are tiny pores in a mud pot. Small droplets from the water placed inside the pot ooze out through them, and evaporate by absorbing heat from the liquid within the pot. Therefore, the water is being continuously cooled!"
The discussion took a new turn with the kids eager to know more about how tropical heat caused discomfort to the body. "Even baths and our natural cosmetics are made specifically for summer needs." Mummy said.
"Oh, now we are entering the women's territory!" said Grandpa, as Meenu sat up all ears. Arjun smirked. Grandma ignored them and added, "Even Indian and Egyptian queens of yore owed their beauty to perfumed baths, henna, betel leaves and other natural cosmetics."
"I believe we use 'kajal' because it keeps our eyes healthy, apart from making our eyes look beautiful - is that right?" Mummy asked.
"Yes, it is made by burning pure ghee, mustard or almond oil." Grandpa said. "Natural camphor in kajal is a disinfectant and prevents inflammations. Its astringent effect helps to clear red small veins, and benefit the eyes. Also the lachrymal glands are stimulated and make the eyes shine. Mint extract is added to cool the eyes."
Grandpa continued. "In many cultures, kajal is believed to protect the person from the 'curse of the evil eye'. Actually when applied to the inner eyelid of newborns and children, kajal strengthens the eyes. It protects them from dust, pollution, and damage caused by artificial light. In fact, it counters strain from working on a computer, and calms tired, itching eyes. So you see, it is not just to make a beauty statement!"
The kids came home sweating profusely after playing outdoors. They were banned from outdoor activity during the hottest part of the day - 10 am to 4 pm. Grandma insisted on evening baths everyday. She boiled neem leaves in a cauldron of water around midday so that it would cool down by evening. She meticulously inspected their nails, back and hair after they had bathed.
"Dirty, unclipped nails and sweaty hands are the source of worms and infections!" she reminded them everyday. Grandma also explained the need to drink lots of water through the day, not only to replenish moisture lost through sweating, but also to help flush toxins out of the body and keep the skin clear and lustrous.
"The sun can increase sebum production, causing your skin to look oily. When the oil combines with dirt and sweat, pores get clogged." Grandpa added. “We used to scrub the skin thoroughly using besan (chick-pea flour) – our non-soap cleanser," reminisced Grandma.
"I remember using a paste of neem powder, red sandalwood powder and yoghurt (curd) in proportions to equal treat pimples." Mummy said. "Neem has an anti- bacterial effect on skin and keeps away prickly heat boils." Grandpa explained.
After the evening prayers, Mummy applied sandal "tilak" on Arjun's forehead, and smiled mischievously at him. "Sandal has a calming, cooling effect on the body and mind and helps to restrict excessive sweat. Don't think I'm just being religious!"
Grandma intervened. "Religious marks including holy ashes vibhoothi, clay, kumkum (Powdered red turmeric) or sandalwood powder are all very potent visible signs of Hindu culture and are symbols of divinity, sanctity, adoration and respect. Why should we be ashamed of it?"
"But they don't go well with western clothes!" Meenu protested. Grandpa addressed her, "Indian girls apply kumkurn on the forehead between the two eyebrows because that spot is a major nerve point in human body-the 'Aajna Chakra', or the seat of memory and thinking. The bindi, suggestive of Shiva's third eye, is said to prevent loss of energy', and gives spiritual protection. It also controls the various levels of concentration."
Grandma continued "Sandal paste is the best remedy for acne, prickly heat, insect bites, eczema rashes, and minor burns and scalds. Sandalwood water helps bring down body temperatures for those suffering from fever - whatever the cause- and headaches too!"
"We were taught 'Shitali Pranayama' in our yoga class yesterday. It is a breathing exercise that lowers the temperature of the body and reduces fevers naturally. You roll your tongue into a tube and stick the tip of the tongue out of the mouth. Breath in through the mouth, through the tongue and as the cool air enters, swallow the breath and press the chin against the chest," Mummy demonstrated, "You exhale, through the nose which is 'Ujjayi Pranayama'."
Daddy came home, looking exhausted. During summers, he had to deal with cases of air-borne viral infections like measles and chicken pox, and waterborne ones like diaorrhea, cholera, jaundice and typhoid. He sighed as he sat down. "Water scarcity aggravates the problem. Siphoning water from the pipelines brings in contaminated water through leakages. Poor quality of water could even lead to a Typhoid epidemic, I fear."
"You take care of yourself, first," Grandma admonished. "Drink a glass of water every hour. In an AC room, you tend to forget that you are getting dehydrated. The frequent power cuts are not helping either!"
Grandpa laughed. "You are a doctor, but your mother can't help being 'the Doctor's doctor', can she?!"