June has finally arrived heralded by a scorching sun that bleaches color and forces all living things to scurry for the relative comfort of shade. The season’s fury is at its worst as one descends the Salt Range to the plains. The effect multiplies manifold in urban concrete jungles, where buildings and asphalt roads (where once there were trees and turf) reflect heat turning the whole environment into an oven. A respite is available to the people with means and who have summer residences in hill stations or those who obtain temporary relief by travelling to the pine clad northern mountains only to realize that their short stay in overcrowded hotels and guesthouses is over and they are on their way back to the heat, sweat and flies.

The residents of the Federal Capital are blest with a climate that has its own safety valves to regulate the hot season – this is the local weather system. Islamabad’s geographical location on the northern edge of the Potohar Plateau at the very foot of the Himalayan foothills or more specifically the Margalla Range, is by and large responsible for this particular weather phenomena. The Margalla Hills and their forested slopes are critical to the local weather system as are the higher snow covered mountains further north, which have a cooling effect on the air passing over them. An added option to beat the heat is provided by the fact that the Capital City lies within a short drive to multiple popular summer destinations, some of which are a mere twenty minutes away by car.

Once, our great port city of Karachi boasted a Mediterranean type of climate because of the sea. I remember a time in the nineteen sixties, when summers in the former capital were mellow and winters pleasantly warm, but such is not the case now. Whether this is because of a change in global weather pattern or a result of too much concrete and asphalt is something that only experts can answer.

In the times before the advent of air conditioning, refrigeration and electricity, people coped with summer heat in many different ways. In the subcontinent, houses inside the walled city had basements - a cool place where the entire family could retreat during summers. Screens made from an aromatic grass called ‘khas’ where hung across doors and windows and kept wet with water. Hot air passing through the screen was effectively cooled and infused with the aroma let off by the ‘khas’. I have personally witnessed temperature drops of around fifteen degrees in rooms where such screens were used. Old photographs from pre independence days show bungalows of high ranking Raj officials entirely cloaked with this grass.

The greatest summer lure was (and still is) the king of fruits – our very own mango. Bought in large quantities and cooled in tubs of ice, it formed the center piece of family get-togethers. These mango parties adhered religiously to the notion that mangos must be eaten with gay abandon normally culminating in hands, faces and clothes generously smeared with mango pulp. The last item in these get-togethers was downing draughts of ‘katchi lassi’, a concoction made from milk diluted in water reputed to counteract the effects of overconsuming the high calorie yellow fruit.

There were other summer delights too, whose pedigree dated back to colonial days. One of these was the desi version of the ‘ice lolly’. This was called ‘baraf ka gola’ or ‘gola ganda’. Nothing more than a sizeable ball of crushed ice on a stick topped with colored syrups of different flavors, the item was extremely popular with both young and old. Then there was the ‘doodh ki baraf’ or the ‘kulfi’ that came out of earthen jars and was served on a banana leaf.

Unlike today, summer beverages were reputed to have therapeutic effects in saving their patrons from adverse effects of heat. The top two amongst these were made out of jaggery sugar or ‘shakkar’, iced water, ‘tukham e malangan’ (tiny black seeds that developed a jelly like coating when soaked in liquid) and ‘satoo’ or roasted ground barley in water sweetened with jaggery sugar.

And so summer came and went, venting its fury on the human race, but also leaving behind a lingering taste of mangos, the icy sweetness of a ‘gola ganda’ or the refreshing memory of a chilled glass of ‘satoo’.