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Monday, Aug 26, 2019

Humour: Romancing the rains

From petrichor to Raag Malhar, the elusive monsoon’s charms are endless

brunch Updated: Jun 29, 2019 22:56 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
(Illustration: Sunil Kumar Mallik)
         

June left us looking expectantly at the skies until the final stretch. Two frogs were even been married off in Karnataka to appease the rain gods, it had been reported a few weeks ago. I think I jinxed it this year, though, by arrogantly buying an artsy umbrella before it was needed. The rain gods are spiteful and they sweat us for their sport. Now that the skies have opened up in Mumbai, once can begin the business of eulogising about the monsoon. At least until the weekend passes.

Remembering the rains

The rains bring with them the familiar deluge of nostalgic associations. Before you can even feel the rain, you can smell it. That stifling, almost suffocating airless air before the first showers. And then the whiff of petrichor – the beautiful, evocative word for the smell of earth after the first rains. There’s a little town in Uttar Pradesh, Kannauj, that tries to capture that smell in a bottle of attar. Using ancient distillation processes, the villagers here are able to pin down the unpindownable scent, it is said. If anyone’s passing by there, do stop and catch a whiff.

Ah, a freshly-fried pakora on a stormy day! The truth of the batter is, we are a nation of deep-fried desires...

Merely one fragrance isn’t enough to describe the romance of the rains. In the hills, it’s a mix of pine and flowers. By the ocean, a salty infusion. And in the city, a crazy mix of petrol, tar, sweat and dust – a smell to erase smells. Childhood for me is still the smell of a wet raincoat. Of soggy books wrapped in protective plastic. Of squelchy rubber shoes walking towards a bowl of steaming Maggi. The rain nourishes memories as much as it does the earth.

Deep-fried desires

Like all romances, even a monsoon flirtation has its seamy side. Booking a car to get to work becomes a daily nightmare. Rainy day traffic – of which you are part – can put even the biggest sentimentalist off the season. Then there are those dangerous walks on the street, where you begin by trying to stay dry and end up simply trying to stay alive. Horrors range from deadly manholes and leptospirosis on the one hand, to muck traps and oil slicks on the other. From being amazed to annoyed, the monsoon elicits a rainbow of emotions. And we let ourselves be played every year. I attribute much of this gullibility to the lure of chai and pakoras, that seductive symbol for the good life as it was lived by generations before us.

A freshly-fried pakora on a stormy day. We all have our favourites, whether it is a thinly- sliced potato bhajiya or a spiky onion one. We’ve all bitten lustily, and mistakenly, into a green chilli bhajiya. Been underwhelmed by a gobhi or baigan offering. But the truth of the batter is, we are a nation of deep-fried desires. I see in my future a well-intentioned yet utterly neglected air-fryer as a concession to my rapidly hardening arteries.

Rainy-day scene

Then of course, there are all the rain-revering cultural references. From Miya Tansen’s Raag Malhar to Nargis and Raj Kapoor huddled under an umbrella, rain and our creative imagination share a primal bond. Even in our overcrowded, underprepared cities, millions of love stories play out at railway stations and waterfronts, bus stops and vada pav stalls day after rainy day. Stolen kisses in autos and gallantly loaned jackets in a sudden squall. Pressure-cooker meals over the weekend, when neighbours are all the company you’ll need – or get. The tuneless symphony of lightning and thunder. The hoped-for shutdowns of offices and schools, followed by the fervent wish for a back-on-its-feet city.

The image of Nargis and Raj Kapoor from Shree 420 (1955) huddled under an umbrella remains an iconic one
The image of Nargis and Raj Kapoor from Shree 420 (1955) huddled under an umbrella remains an iconic one

Every year in school, the cheerless art teacher would predictably ask us to draw a rainy-day scene. My artistic skills never went beyond stick figures in strange, inhuman poses. But I always envied my classmates’ relatively sophisticated drawings. Invariably, their pictures would involve children sailing paper boats in a puddle. This year, I plan on putting the cliché to the test: I shall steer my own paper boat in the rain. Wait. I swear I just heard a cuckoo crying out its approval. And now I’m craving pakoras.

From HT Brunch, June 30, 2019

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First Published: Jun 29, 2019 21:05 IST

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