There’s a little ritual I’ve followed for a few monsoons now. Every year that the winds spill their fill over Kerala, I’ve sat by the first rains reading new writing about the rain. The obsession began with Alexander Frater’s Chasing The Monsoon. From Thiruvananthapuram to Cherrapunji, Frater runs ahead of, and sometimes with, the south-west monsoon to see it fall afresh over new land. Of the celestial drama as the rains break in Kovalam, he writes, “Thunder boomed. Lightning went zapping into the sea, the leader stroke of one strike, passing the ascending return stroke of the last, so that the whole roaring edifice seemed supported on pillars of fire.” I was hooked. It wasn’t until I read the Sangam poets though, that I realised nothing quite captures the beauty of the rains as verse does. “But in love our hearts are as red earth and pouring rain: mingled beyond parting,” said Cembulappeyani, Kuruntokai (40). Each year, the hunt for rain writing unearths new treasures. Once, it was Muse India’s monsoon themed edition with scholarly prose on the rain in Sanskrit poetry, the monsoon’s femininity in Kalidasa’s ªtusamhâram, and much more. It was here that I met the rain in my mother-tongue translated, in Balamani Amma’s Raindrops, “Rain showers on me, sprouting/ beads of enchantment,... Nibbling, revolving, rain healing/ buds peeping out of enigmatic seeds/ filling fullness but shrouding lustrous light”. Amma’s daughter, Kamala Das, echoes these sentiments in Winter: “It smelt of new rains and of tender/ shoots of plants - and its warmth was the warmth/ of earth groping for roots.”
It is from the poets that I learnt of what the rain felt like and meant across India. In Cuttack, Orissa, Jayanta Mahapatra tucks the rain into numerous poems, often overturning the ‘new-beginnings’ optimism. “Who knows/ what’s dying underneath/ a growing blade of grass?” he asks in A Day of Rain. In The Quest, he paints the rain’s violence, calling it a “tiger of jaws”, in memory of those lost “at the hands of a God with noiseless thunderstorms”. From Arunachal Pradesh, came the voice of Mamang Dai in The Wind and the Rain, speaking peace amid conflict - “Yes, the rain is pouring down on my homeland./ The old men are saying they can see/ fields of darkness and fields of light./ One day, they say, the wind will sing/ songs of slaughter, and tenderness.”
Last year, the goldmine was Sumana Roy’s splendid essay Women in the Rain published by Poetry at Sangam. Structured to resemble the rain itself, the essay on rain poetry by women unfolds in brief spells through individual segments that are threaded to the whole. Here, Anandita Sengupta finds symbolism in the rain on her windshield. “I squint at water,/ slide grief and hope back and forth” (‘Turn’). As the first drops of today’s showers slide down my window pane, I leave you for lines on love from Tishani Doshi’s Ode to Drowning, “There are as many ways/ of yearning/ as there are ways for rain/ to fall/ slow/ incessant/ gentle/ squalling/ melancholy/ warm."