“Pack for winter.” I’d warned my parents when we last spoke.
They had visited me in London when I lived there, but nothing could have prepared them for an Irish summer.
I was the adult in the relationship now; responsible for keeping them safe and dry. I was going to have to remind them to wear sunscreen, despite the clouds lurking in the corners of the frame.
Inevitably, it was raining when they stepped out of the airport. Mama looked up, squinting instinctively, expecting to find the sun. They hadn’t taken my advice, and their shoes were soaked through. My Irish (then) boyfriend felt the need to apologise on the weather’s behalf.
So the first place they visited in Dublin was Grafton Street. We went in and out of shops, looking for weatherproof clothing. Most of which were made in India and Bangladesh.
Papa, like so many men from his generation, doesn’t shop for himself very often. When he does, he checks the labels, tries them on, parades around in them for our opinion and that of the sales assistants, checks the labels again, then remarks at the price before closely investigating the quality of the fabric.
“Have I had to sit in a plane for eight hours to buy something I could have bought in Calcutta?”
He wasn’t impressed by the manufacturing origin. Also, he used to be a pilot in the Indian Air Force, and now took personal offence when he wasn’t the one flying the plane.
“You can’t buy this stuff in India,” I told him. “They make it there and sell it here.”
By the time we emerged from the shops, the sun was out. The sky was a technicolour miracle, with quickly-fading rainbows everywhere. The only evidence of rain, to prove we hadn’t been imagining it, was the drip-drip from gutters. Papa gave me a look. He’d just spent more money on clothes than he’d spent in the last decade. I assured him it hadn’t all gone to waste.
In Calcutta, where I spent most of my childhood summers, every day got increasingly hotter with no sign of rain, until it reached a fever-pitch. Sweat soaked our backs, dust covered our shoes and ankles, we groaned collectively as the air grew more pregnant with humidity. We waited months for the Monsoons to arrive, for the threads of the patchwork blanket of clouds to wear away. We ate mangoes so ripe they were nearly red, and drank coconut water to distract ourselves from the heat.
In Dublin, my parents hurriedly pulled out their rain jackets from their new purchases. It was raining again. It was going to be a very different kind of summer.
A few years later, my husband and I had moved to Waterford. My parents had been spending their summers with us every year. By then, they had fallen into a rhythm and learned to dress in layers. They were getting used to the idea of having to turn the heating on some nights.
Regardless of what the weather app predicted on their phones, they never took the bus from our house in Ardkeen. They walked all the way to the city centre instead, taking their time. They stopped for coffees at People’s Park and ate their lunches at cafes around the city.
They always returned with a story; an interesting conversation they had with a stranger, a new sandwich place they’d discovered in a by-lane, a tourist had asked them for directions, a nun on a bicycle had stopped to talk about her time with the Missionaries of Charity. I began worrying less when they went exploring by themselves. They were being well taken care of by their new friends at the cafes they frequented, and by the regulars who walked their dogs at the park.
On Saturdays we drove to Dunmore East to get ice creams and sit at the pier. Papa always fed the seagulls and pigeons if we got fish and chips, so we had to put a stop to that. It amazed me how they’d relaxed their holiday rules; I was the one maintaining decorum now.
A lot had changed since the summers of my childhood in India.
To escape the heat, it was only logical to go somewhere cool. The Himalayan towns of Darjeeling, Gangtok and Kalimpong were our personal favourites. For a few days, we were able to escape the unrelenting heat for a more clement Darjeeling tea estate. Steeped in post-colonial hangover, we sat in whitewashed wicker lawn chairs, drinking tea from China cups the way the British had taught us. What I most enjoyed were the momos they sold on the streets, straight out of the steamers.
My parents insisted I bundle myself in gloves, scarves and woolly hats. They only permitted me a few drops of the fiery dipping sauce that came with the momos. I was given money to spend at the video game parlours, but only for an hour.
Stay close, come away from the edge, hold my hand, wear your scarf. A parent’s chant on holiday.
I can still recall the oily sweetness of my first bite of a doughnut. It was at Glenary’s in Darjeeling, which was arguably the best bakery in India at the time. Before that, I’d only ever read about doughnuts in American comic books. Papa and I probably ate a dozen of them that day.
It must have been the year I left home that we stopped going to Darjeeling in the summers.
The last time they were here in Ireland with us, before the borders closed, we went to Hook Lighthouse on a particularly warm day. We bought 99s at the cafe and made our way down to the sea, helping each other over the toothy rocks. Mama and I found a spot to sit, while Papa carried on. I sent my husband after him, as I would do with a toddler.
I kept an eye on them, on him, watching as he stopped to roll up his trousers. Perfect folds, with military precision.
“These rocks are precarious. He could fall and seriously hurt himself,” I complained to Mama. She shrugged, the way she wouldn’t have shrugged twenty years ago at my antics. They waved at us as they threw their legs over a rock, dangling their feet over the water.
“You worry too much. He’s having fun,” Mama said. She was right, he was. It was their turn now.
I couldn’t imagine wasting our few sunny weeks on a cold place, but I thought about visiting Darjeeling again with my parents. I would be the one nagging them about scarves and gloves this time.
It was so hot that day at Hook, the rocks scalded the backs of my bare calves where they touched. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, and yet, it started to drizzle. I was about to curse, but then I saw that papa had brought umbrellas.
* Born and raised in India, Disha Bose now lives in Ireland. Her debut novel,, will be published by Viking, Penguin in early 2023