Back when I lived in Delhi (i.e. until 2003) I used to write articles for a website based in Austin, Texas. I suddenly remembered one article about the monsoon breaking in India, and have posted that here.
You know, when other night it was raining in Delhi, I couldn't help but sit up and look out of my window at the downpour. There's this mango tree outside that never seems to bear any fruit, but is always filled with blossoms and causes much woe to my allergy. In the winter, it keeps the sun out, and in summer it fills the room with dead leaves during a dust storm. But when it rains, that tree, which I generally curse out throughout the rest of the year, becomes my favorite haunt in the monsoons. My bed, which is just below the window, puts me in range of the leaves. When the raindrops hit the dust-laden branches, the tree emits a heavenly, fruity, dusty and wet scent.
The smell and texture of the rains are my favorite aspects of the monsoons. At two in the morning, when the rains started, I sat up, stuck my head as close to the grille as possible, and felt the sprinkle of water on my face. It has to be one of the most refreshing experiences in the world, and any health spa can go to hell!
The monsoon has to be the most difficult season to write about in the world. And I guess that is why very few writers manage to capture the essence of the country when the first drops hit the parched ground. That sondhi smell, which has no translation into English, has so many connotations and ideas attached that each whiff is laden with the cultural baggage of centuries. The magic of the kajris of Vrindavan, the crazy sound of the raag which is sung in a garden pavilion in the middle of a downpour, or even the frustration of being trapped indoors for a week at a stretch.
What is it about a rushing mass of clouds that can drive an entire civilisation crazy with a weird madness? A season that is so magical that it can be immortalised in the culture of an ancient land? What makes the monsoons so special, so different from any other downpour anywhere else in the world?
I think it has to do with the anticipation. Only a person who has sweated out the unbearable scorching summer months of April, May and June can understand the lure of the dark, water laden blessings. Only a person who has stood under a tree at noon, who has felt the searing hot winds of the desert over the plains, only they can understand the relief the rains bring.
Imagine yourself spending three months in the fiery bowels of hell. Think of the eternal damnation your local priest never fails to remind you of. Think of spending three months where the nights are oppressive and the days are malignant. Think of all the heat you can imagine, and imagine spending your summer in that furnace. No red hydrant baths in suburbia, no kids frolicking in the afternoon. Just an eerie stillness on the roads after eleven o'clock. People hurry indoors, to spend the worst hours in the cool comfort of their homes and offices. Children scurry into dark classrooms to avoid the scorching winds outside. Even the street vendors seek the shade of the local tree.
Think of the painful, dusty Indian summer, the real Indian summer, not the reprieve in the cold Montana autumn. Think of the worst fate you can. Land that is so hot and arid that the soil cracks in deep gashes. The tarmac is so fiery you can feel the boiling heart of the earth through the soles of your feet. Temperatures rise so high that birds fall dead from the aching bright blue sky. Wells dry out, ponds evaporate into nothingness; even the mud turns to fine, dry sand. The world weeps under the relentless summer. Sarat Chandra Chatterjee spoke of the "rainless firmament" in one of his short stories. I use that imagery here. The sky is so blue that your eyes wince at the brightness above. Not a fragment of cloud is there to ease the pain in your soul. The summer in India is terrible.
Then, from somewhere over the azure Indian Ocean, a wind comes. Drawn by the imbalances of pressure, the lifesaver heads towards a burning land. Moisture gathers on its flanks, slowly, slowly. It builds up into giant cotton wool cumulonimbus, large white fluffs of redemption. The Maharashtrians call the first rains of the monsoon the tiger. It roars and howls over the earth, and then, suddenly the painful heat is gone. The aching is replaced by an urgent expectancy. The sky, once so blue, is now covered with grey and slate sheets, which hover ominously over the horizon. The hot winds, which earlier on burned your skin, are now gone. In their place is a heavy oppressiveness, which is worse than all the heat of the summer. That was permanent; this is uncertain. Will that reprieve last?
Rain. The sky bursts into a torrent of water. Raindrops so large that they sting where they hit your skin. The grey and slate is now darker still, and you are trapped in the deluge of relief. The dry, parched earth is now quenched. Its heavy odor rises and fills your nostrils. Relief and the savior unite to give succor to a deprived earth.
And who can forget the supreme pleasure and ecstasy of soaking in the first deluge? An aunt of mine, a very respectable embassy press officer, with a six year old son, makes it a point of running out of where ever she may be and getting drenched to the skin in the first rains of the season. Many times, I join her in her manic, child like rain dance. The thrill of just being out there in the open, with a seemingly never-ending downpour is too rich to describe. Surrounded by the neighborhood children, I am generally mobbed by seven or eight preteens who want to be swung around from my arms.
And then, when my skin is so wet, it wrinkles, when the heavy rain becomes heavier still, when the raindrops cease to please and begin to hurt, and if I'm unlucky, if the hailstorms take over, I come indoors. My mother fusses over my dripping all over the carpet, so I am given a towel at the door itself. After drying up and changing, I head straight towards the bed. There I find a thick sheet and generally burrow deep under the covers, and just look up out of my windows towards the rain. The steel gray is a nice backdrop to my room, and I usually spend the rest of the day with a book and endless cups of piping hot tea.
What makes the monsoons so special?