How do the fun-filled monsoons of childhood turn into inconvenient messes when we grow up?
When the rains come, discussing weather stops qualifying as small talk. There are little signs everywhere and, even if you usually sit with your bedroom windows tightly shut and your browsers wide open, there is no escaping the monsoon. You didn’t step outside today? No problem. If you scroll down the glowing screen of that laptop you have been staring at for the last three hours, there’ll be enough pictures and status updates to prove that it thundered and showered out in the non-digital world.
It’s strange but my first memory of monsoon doesn’t really have anything to do with rains. I remember the school essays on it instead. Points from textbooks rote-learned and poured out like steady raindrops on paper — the monsoon months, the grey clouds, the happy farmers. I’d always throw in a little bit of children-playing-in-the-mud and colourful-umbrellas-everywhere for flavour.
We don’t write school essays any more, but the season has stuck around (a quick thank you to the powers that be — all things considered, our environment karma isn’t looking too good). It’s still important. It still comes after a widely disliked dry or sticky summer. Trying to fan ourselves with limp newspapers and wedged between perspiring commuters on the bus, we still look up at the sky and squint to magically summon the heavy, overflowing clouds. The idea of rain is so pleasant, so perfect. The sky magically opening up to offer you sweet relief; it’s a little like a personal gift for everyone.
And then the rains come. Sometimes slow and steady, beginning with a few promising drops and then picking up pace; sometimes it’s a little like breaking a piggybank — everything spills over all at once. And of course it is as good as your thought it would be. The smell of wet earth is wonderful and the fat pigeons shaking off the raindrops under your porch look uncharacteristically sweet. The mellow drumming and humming and rumbling outside your window complete an already serene picture. Sitting inside your home or standing outside with your face turned up, the rain feels good.
It’s wise to hold on to this feeling, especially when things begin in earnest. In the world of our school essays, things were pretty simple — tiny pools of water you could splash around in, a little mud and lots of rainy season perks. I find it interesting, and a little amusing that we almost never mentioned some very obvious seasonal facts; traffic jams for one. Didn’t we have them back then? And what about now? Do kids in schools today begin their work with an introduction to rainy day driving? How about flooding? Have the tiny pools of yesteryear grown and morphed into knee-high floods on your roads and colonies? Are the essays today sweetly simple too? Because the monsoon definitely isn’t.
Oh, it’s still beautiful and very welcome. The first rain brings a collective sigh of grateful relief on people’s lips. The second one is a reinforcement that this glorious season is sticking around and, even on the third continuous day, we don’t really complain. We watch the roads flooding a little uneasily though, and stare at the wet dark sky with mild trepidation. The sun isn’t out. Thank god? Impatience only creeps in after we’ve trod knee-high water repeatedly, fought with more than one broken umbrella and arrived drenched to office one too many times. We begin to wish that the season would ease up a little bit; may be take a little break, send out the sun instead.
Keeping aside the obvious, devastating effect that nature can always have if it turns rogue, even the usual, pouring rain can come with its own set of fine-print. It can send you running back into the house, ringing friends to cancel plans. It can make you sink your foot in something vile and sticky while navigating flooded streets. It can make your walls seep and leak and your car stall. It can make you lose umbrellas faster than you can buy them, and wear raincoats that, let’s face it, might be from way back when you did write school essays.
Monsoon means the aroma of tea and savouries. It also means wet squelchy shoes. The monsoon, whether in Delhi or Mumbai or Chennai, means different things to many people. Makeshift houses lining the pavements fold up like a pack of cards, motorcyclists take shelter under flyover to wait out the downpour, grateful students crawl back into bed after schools declare ‘rain holiday’, the streets get clogged with traffic and overflowing drains and potholes.
The essay, if we were to write one now, would read differently. We’d be careful to present a complete picture, with little complaints dotting the page like notes in the margins, comfortably sitting between nuggets of fact, figures and romantic elegies.