Whenever the rain comes pouring down, I remember my grandmother. She was a true believer in the magical properties of rain water. So, even as the skies darkened, she would be ready with buckets, tubs, steel pans, and whatever other container she could lay her hands on. They would all be lined across the verandah, carefully positioned in the places where she knew (from her vast experience) the most rain water would fall.
When the skies finally opened up, she would press us kids into service. The moment a bucket/tub/container filled up, it was our job to pick it up and jog across to the large water tank next to the kitchen, empty it in and come back for more. The higher the water level in the tank at the end of the downpour, the happier my grandmom.
Then, until the next shower, this water would be rationed out carefully to all the women in the family (men really didn’t rate in my grandmom’s world; the feminist before her time). Not to bathe in; that would be a criminal waste. The rain water was only used to wash our hair. And I have to admit that, in that pre-conditioner era, it left our tresses silky smooth and shining.
It was only after my grandmother passed on that I developed a rainy-day ritual of my own along with my best friend in the neighborhood. The moment it started raining, we would run to the terrace and block all the water outlets with balled up pieces of cloth. Then, the two of us would get soaked to the skin, fairly screaming with joy, even as the terrace slowly transformed into a swimming pool (admittedly, a very shallow one!). Once the water was a few inches deep, we would ‘swim’ or more accurately, skid along the smooth concrete, having the time of our lives.
When we were a little older, we incorporated a bit of arts and crafts into this routine. Once we had satiated the thirst of our animal spirits, we would settle down in the shade, piles of old exercise books by our side. We would carefully fashion paper boats and sail them across our miniature ocean, keeping close tabs on whose boats made it the farthest.
But by far, the best part of the monsoons was the ‘rainy-day holiday’. In Calcutta, where I grew up, you were guaranteed at least four days off due to torrential rain. So, every morning I would get up and run hopefully to the window to see if the rain was coming down in gallons. And you cannot imagine my delight on the rare occasions that we were in fact given a ‘rain holiday’.
That day, breakfast would not be a glass of milk and a couple of slices of buttered bread. It would be milky tea, teamed with steaming hot singaras (what you would call samosas in the north) and jalebis from the neighbourhood ‘mishti dukaan’ (sweetshop). Then, I would grab my favourite book – an Enid Blyton when I was younger and a Georgette Heyer when I was a little older – settle down in the window seat and prepare to read the day away while glancing occasionally at the grey skies outside, fortified by many cups of chai.
And then there were the rainy-day menus, all unified by the theme of deep frying: fluffy puris for breakfast with aloo subzi; steaming bowls of kitchdi served with begun bhaja; pakoras made with everything from fiery green chilies to soft creamy paneer for evening tea; and if we were still hungry at the end of that, another helping of kitchdi for dinner.
I think it is fair to say that as I got older, rainy-day rituals became a spectator sport rather than a full-on, immersive experience. Rare was the occasion that I allowed my inner child to go forth and frolic in the rain. Instead, in keeping with my new grown-up status, I would watch indulgently from the sidelines as my nieces did much the same thing, playing out my childhood in front of my own eyes.
But no matter how old I get, I find it hard to eschew rainy-day rituals altogether. So now, when I am in Mumbai, my rainy-day ritual extends to taking the day off, keeping a pot of coffee on the go and just sitting on the balcony, watching the rain slash down into the Arabian Sea.
One of my favourite weekend breaks is to head to Goa during the monsoons, when the grey of the sea and the skies is set off to perfection by the verdant green of the vegetation. And suffice it to say, if you haven’t walked down a soggy beach, being pummeled by the rain, the salty sea spray, and buffeted by the winds, you haven’t lived at all. If I have a little more time off, Kerala is my ‘rain destination’ of choice, with egg roast and parottas taking the place of singaras and pakoras, and coffee standing in for milky tea.
And if I am stuck in Delhi, not the best place to enjoy the monsoons admittedly, then it’s off to Lodi Gardens to take a walk in the rain and get soaked to the skin. It’s hard to resist the temptation to fashion a few paper boats to float down the water that collects in large puddles as I dawdle along the jogging track. But now that I am no longer that little girl who would try so hard to transform her terrace into a swimming pool, I try my best to resist.
From HT Brunch, August 7, 2016
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