ON AND OFF FOR THE PAST FEW DAYS I have been looking out of the window hoping that it would rain soon. This evening as the first droplets of monsoon landed on the courtyard in front of my building my mood is suddenly upbeat as it always has been when the rains arrive.
THE FIRST RAINS HAVE THEIR OWN CHARM. The smell of rain water and mud (or is it dust?) is strangely pleasing and after the first showers there is a stillness that is so peaceful. I am transported back to my childhood days thinking of the walls in the verandah at night that would be dotted with all sorts of insects and flies and when it was a field day for odd lizards which surfaced from behind the inclined photo frames of the family ancestry for their prey. Somewhere in the distance there was a frog croaking always and the sounds of the crickets were unmistakable. Ours was a cottage in a large compound full of dense vegetation and trees all round and in the pitch darkness outside our house it was always a delight watching the fireflies blinking. The first rains would soon give way to huge showers, non stop for hours, and when they ceased momentarily it was nearly music listening to the gentle fall of the raindrops on leaves and even when droplets from the roof edges fell on the puddles of water that virtually remained all around the house throughout the season.
IN CITIES, THE MONSOONS HAVE A DIFFERENT FLAVOUR altogether. It is all about raincoats and umbrellas, waterlogged tracks delaying trains for hours, traffic jams, leaking roofs and damp walls, and school children (and office goers) waiting for those torrential rains that could result in a rain holiday or two. In Mumbai we will soon begin watching the lake levels published in page 11 of the newspaper almost as enthusiastically as the Sensex and Nifty numbers and stockbrokers will now hope that the Met Dept has got it all wrong about deficient rainfall signalling #Raghuram Rajan for his next rate cut ! Mumbaikars will also hope and pray at the advent of every monsoon that the precautions taken by BMC against water logging are better than the year before…
RAINS HAVE A FLIP SIDE TOO: FLOODING, destruction of crops, house collapses, loss of life and injury, and the untold misery caused to people living in the margins. In short, the season brings both relief and sorrow sometimes mirroring the vicissitudes of life itself. Haven’t you also heard, in the context of cricket, when “RAIN STOPS PLAY” ? Incessant rains induce drudgery too as the late poet Dom Moraes captured succinctly in one simple line in one of his poems : “It is raining outside like a businessman’s stories…”
MONSOONS HAVE GIVEN BIRTH TO A WHOLE BODY of literature, music and films. One of the most extraordinary short stories ever written is titled “Rain”. It is by Somerset Maugham where the suspense rests on the last word of the story. There is the legend of Tansen who is said to have induced rain from the heavens through the Amritavarshani raga. And there are many films too with rain (or the lack of it) as an important backdrop – from Satyajit Ray’s Ashani Sanket (Distant Thunder) in Bengali to Kamal’s Perumazhakkalam (In Times of Torrential Rain) in Malayalam. Who hasn’t heard of the raaga Megh Malhar on which countless film songs have been based ? From the singer Khursheed of yesteryears in Tansen to Barso Re Megha Megha Barso Re in Guru and the sheer celebration of the first rain Ghanana Ghanana Gir Aur Badla in Lagaan where the combined voices of Udit Narayan, Sukhwinder Singh, Shaan, Shankar Mahadevan and Alka Yagnik work magic will remain etched in memory for ever. On a rainy day, with a steaming cup of coffee in hand I plan to listen to the inimitable renditions of Pandit Jasraj and Rashid Khan of the Megh Malhar raga. For the moment, as I write this, in my headphones I am listening to Sujata Trivedi singing Boondon Se Baatein set to the memorable music of AR Rahman for the film Thakshak.
IT IS OFT REPEATED THAT WHEN TWO ENGLISHMEN meet the icebreaker is a brief discussion on the weather. When it rains, the typical conversation opener is to state the obvious : “Good Rain!” “Really Bad Rains Today” or quite simply “Oh, I am all wet..” The late Khushwant Singh often wrote engagingly on the Indian monsoons. Remarking on the vagaries of the rains in India, he once wryly remarked, that sometimes, “by the time you finish saying Chakravarti Rajagopalachari a shower is over !”
I MUST END THIS PIECE as I now need to download Cynthia Barnett’s “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History” on my Kindle.