Thursday, July 9, 2015

It Never Rains in Chennai...

...but when it does, it's something else!

Before I get into this, let me tell you why I'm talking about the rains when my weather app says - "38 degrees but feels like 42"!!! -

Narayani wrote about her first memories of the monsoon and tagged me. I would have written this earlier and passed this along, but, Fluff keeps me super busy and disinterested in typing anything longer than a Facebook status update!

So, anyway, here goes:

When we were kids, I remember waking up at the crack of dawn and dawdling at what I can only describe as a human chain that formed at the landing of the staircase that led up to our house in Kilpauk. My grandmother, my aunts, my uncle and my mum would all be lined up. Sid and me? We'd pretend to be useful running out of the house with empty buckets.

You see, our next door neighbour had a handpump and that was our only source of water. The compound house we lived in didn't have a pump, so, we had to fill water up in the mornings and evenings to use in the kitchen and bathrooms. Those were the days we used water very carefully and didn't waste a single drop! Madras was experiencing a drought. To the point where one of our relatives, who was a state minister, invited us over to their house where they had a regular supply of water tankers, to bathe (a shampoo bath!).

Thinking back on those days now, it seems ridiculous. But the memories of my old baby bath tub being coverted into a water storage bucket and lines of brightly coloured plastic kodams filled with water are still vivid.

Why drought when the original intention was to talk to you about my monsoon memories? Because it doesn't rain in Chennai!

We're a coastal city, we have cyclone warnings every year. Some years it even rains in Feburary/March, but for the most part my city doesn't experience a monsoon like the rest of the country does, not until October.

When the rest of the country airs its woolens and the advertising is about winter creams and thermal inners is when we sit in the muggy pre-rain outdoors and watch as the clouds build up and listen to the rain fall and store it as a precious memory. Because when the agni nakshatram heat hits us in May, that cool breeze before the rain is what sustains us until October and November.

My favourite monsoon memory, however, is dated 2005/2006. I was studying at Madras Univeristy then. On campus. My classroom was on the top floor. Other than us and the Computer Science departments, everything else was terrace. And the view! Right out into the Bay of Bengal! The unfortunate fact was that we had to sit on the parapet outside the loo to take in the sight of the endless ocean!

One afternoon, Jeya and I were sitting on that parapet watching the sea. We had class, and we didn't want to go. We never wanted to go to class, that's a whole other thing. I don't remember what we were talking about, but, we were both looking at the sea ahead of us. And then we saw it. Clouds. Dark. Almost black. Moving above the sea. Coming from opposite directions and looking like they were headed straight for each other. There was a thin grey wall underneath them, telling us that there was rain where these clouds loomed. The terrace  tiles in front of us were dry as a bone and yet, somewhere on the sea was rain.

As we watched, part amazed, part awed, the clouds met and before we could comprehend what we'd witnessed they headed straight for us. A thick wall of rain, heavy and noisy and cool. Jeya and I watched as it covered inch after inch of the terrace before flying over us and into a parched city. We were both a little too excited to pretend we were grown women doing our masters degrees. I don't even know if I've managed to explain it properly over here.

The reason this stands out for me is because until then, rains were all about reaching a place with great difficulty. It almost always rained when I had to catch my bus for school or college and almost always I was late or I got splashed by some car or I arrived looking rather shabby. I didn't have the time or inclination to appreciate the romance of the monsoon or anything pleasant about anything to do with the rains. My clothes had to be iron-dried and my socks almost always got the worst of it. I had to always wear proper footwear because travelling by bus meant I didn't have a dry space to change shoes.

I always complained about the rains. I still do. Objectively, I see how pretty it is and how lovely everything looks once it's been washed in the cleanest and purest water, but reality had a whole other picture for me and frankly I didn't care for it. It took me until my early twenties and that afternoon sitting on the parapet to really appreciate what the rains were all about.

For those of you who are coastal children who have seen the rains come in like this, I'm sure you've also tried explaining the rain coming in. For those of you who've never seen something like this, I think it's time to visit coastal India. Seriously. You have to see it to believe how beautiful that sight is.


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