I had started writing this post right in the middle of a miserable Mumbai monsoon morning, with a silent prayer on my lips for a ray of sunlight. And, as if in answer to my prayer, the sky looked less gray and more blue with moody white clouds floating carelessly in from the horizon in no rush to rain and I promptly abandoned the post. But, as it is with the misleading Mumbai monsoon, by evening the sky was back to being completely gray and clouds pregnant with their carriage waited patiently for a cue to begin their downpour.
After my camera had captured this view outside my window, I thought I should pen this late monsoon post; about the torrid love-hate relationship between the rain and me. Three monsoons ago, an early monsoon day in Maximum City saw us alight from a flight that had flown us in from an arid, desert city. My Facebook status for the occasion had read, “Finally in the city that is rainy and green”. Why did I go so ‘over the top’ with my Facebook update? Well, read on…
My earliest impressions of the monsoon date back to the city of Job Charnock, where rubber boats are often deployed to rescue people stranded on rooftops in the lower lying parts of the city; and where I spent many a rainy afternoon setting sail paper boats in the alley outside our house that remained perpetually water-logged during the monsoons. I remember in carefree days there was no greater joy than dancing in the first monsoon showers or wading through the abundant rivulets and streams to and from my way to school – which returned to being roads only after the monsoons were over. Being such a creature of habit, I had accepted rain as an integral part of life, that there would be the occasional thunder-showers that would clean up the grime and the dust and set the earth aglow; that a random maze of pot-holes would soon dot the face of the streets soon after the showers came leading to incessant traffic jams; that houses and walls would soon take on a fresh greenish hue with the onset of the rains; and that our clothes and books would start to smell musty; and that children would snivel, sneeze and complain and yet not give up the slightest chance of playing or getting wet in the rain.
I had spent the decade prior to this in a somewhat rainless exile between the arid city at the foothills of the Aravalli and a desert city in the outer fringes of the Rub al Khali ( The Empty Quarter ). In the Rajdhani, at the foothills of the Aravalli, the monsoon or the Varsha rhitu is not a prominent season on the seasonal calendar and a whimsical rain fall soon gives way to autumn. The desert city, where we nested for the later half of the decade, has only one prominent season on the calendar, Al Sa’if (summer).
In my exile in the Rajdhani, I suddenly found that a lot of the known and the ordinary had gone missing from my life, rain being one of them. Like all fellow creatures of habit, the loss became a misery over time. Thus in rememberance of the rain that had left my life, I fondly named my daughter Rimjhim, the music of the rains, while I waited for the scorching Dilli summer months to peter into rain. In the desert city, things were extreme, it barely rained a few days in the year. Thus any form of rain was celebrated by going ‘Wadi bashing’ – driving through rivulets that trickled along dry river beds. I secretly wished for some divine intervention to lift this ban from my life and return me to some place where it rained.
So it was natural that when I did arrive at Maximum city, the craving for rain had been at an extreme. That year’s monsoon went unnoticed as I had other inconsequential things like finding a house, getting school admission for the 8-going-on-9, settling in etc. to keep me distracted. I did admire the gray Arabian Sea and the stormy sky gushing and pouring in a gusto from the Worli Seaface house that we spent that monsoon in. And the following year, in spite of the meteorological department going berserk and issuing warning after warning of a repeat of a deluge similar to 2006, rain played truant. Soon I had joined the rest in tweeting about the missing Mumbai monsoon.
Which brings me to the year that is. And that is where lies the misery of a different kind. For the rain-starved me the decade long rationing of rain had brought in a craving for the rain, true, but it had altered something in me as well. I had, somewhere down the line, grown less benevolent and the romantic was hard hit by reality. This year’s monsoon has been surplus. The rains have filled up the lakes, the incessant streams have eroded the hills, the drumming droplets have eaten into the asphalt and have left behind, to quote a friend, ‘moon-craters’ on the Mumbai streets, the damp air has left a trail of musty smell in clothes and an abundant growth of fungus on all things cane, wood, fabric, and paper.The joy ride into town or anywhere else within or without the city boundaries reminds one of the joys of riding the metaphorical ‘bail gaadi‘.
Does that mean that I don’t love the rains any more? Of course, I do. From my perch, my lofty window on the 32nd floor, or through the high glass windows of the cafe down the road with a book in hand sipping a cup of espresso, or even from the car window as it whooshes through puddles while dodging ‘moon-craters’ of all shapes and sizes – nestled in dry comfort.
Read it on my TOI blog : Freeze Frame