The weather is brutally hot and humid here in Pondicherry, so my thoughts have been turning to ways to cool off.
Tender coconut water is the best summer cooler, and the most perfect rehydration drink. You can buy green coconuts anywhere in South India, and many places in the North, as well. You’ll often see the coconut-walas sitting by the side of the road with a pile of green coconuts, ready to lop off the top with a big cleaver. They prepare your coconut while you watch and then give it to you with a straw you can drink it right from the shell. When you’ve finished, hand it back and get it opened up so you can scoop up the fleshy part. If you want to take some coconuts home, they will cleave them in such a way that you can finish the job with an ordinary knife.
Fresh lime soda or fresh lime water, also called nimbu pani, is popular all over India. The limes are actually lemons, so it’s really just lemonade, but you can get it sweet, salty or sweet and salty. Sweet and salty is the best. I know, it sounds rather awful, but it’s truly delicious, if the proportions are right—and it’s a superb rehydration formula, second only to tender coconut water. Both are much better than the oral rehydration formulas you can buy at the pharmacy. To make it yourself, use these proportions (alter the amounts as needed): 1 cup lemon juice to 4 cups water or soda; 3/4 cup sugar; 1 1/4 teaspoon rock salt. You can also add a bit of ginger juice or garnish with a sprig of mint and a slice of lemon. Jaljeera is a spice mix that is sometimes added, as well.
Thandai is another superb, delicious Indian cooler. Blanch 1/2 cup almonds (soak in boiling water for about a minute, then remove the skins) and grind into paste, adding just a little water at a time, enough to make a paste. (Note: you’ll need about 2 cups of water altogether.) Grind together 2 Tbsp. of ground poppy seeds (khus khus), 1/4 tsp of cardamom powder or 8 pods of crushed green cardamom (elaichi), 1 Tbsp. fennel seed (saunf) and add to the almond paste. Now strain the mixture, using a fine-meshed strainer or muslin cloth. Take the remaining paste and blend it again using the remaining water and add 1 1/2 cups sugar. Strain again, pressing it to extraxt as much liquid as possible. Repeat until the residue becomes dry like a husk. Add 1 1/2cups milk and 2 Tbsp. rosewater to the extracted liquid, mixing thoroughly. Serve chilled. Makes: 8 glasses (approx.) This will keep for about 36 hours, if properly refrigerated.
Eat light meals rather than heavy ones. Heavy meals interfere with the body’s cooling process. Summer fruits are fabulous, and this is the time to indulge. Watermelon and cucumber are two of the most cooling foods available.
Kulfi is a frozen desert similar to ice cream that’s wonderfully cooling and delightful. It’s generally easier to find good kulfi than good Western-style ice cream because it’s usually home-made. Indian-made ice cream, on the other hand, is usually laden with chemicals and synthetic ingredients.
On another front, wear light-colored lightweight cotton or linen clothes, and sandals instead of closed shoes.
Wear a hat or carry an umbrella to keep the sun off—or use both if it’s sunny and extremely hot. Stay in the shade as much as possible, but don’t forget the sunscreen if you have to be out. If you find yourself stuck in a situation where there is no way to get into a place that’s cool, such as a broken-down car that has broken down in the middle of nowhere on a really hot day, soak a cloth in water and wrap it around your head.
Get your exercise early in the morning or in the evening. Don’t overdo it in the heat. Swimming is obviously the very best exercise in the summer, at least for most people. Yoga isn’t exactly exercise—at least, it’s not meant to be exercise in the Western concept of the word—but it’s a great way to keep your body flexible and it doesn’t heat up the body like aerobic exercises. Take a siesta in the middle of the day, if possible. The locals here all do it.
Use a hand-carried fan when you are sitting around in a place without air-conditioning.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to drink enough water. Your body needs lots of it in this heat. You’ll feel the heat more if you don’t get enough. Don’t gulp it down, though; it’s better to drink slowly, but frequently.