Monsoons is a stale topic for writers but it continues to invade the print, electronic, audio and virtual media the same way it does my mind, flooding it with memories which spread in my being sensations that defy description; sensations that warm my whole self with feelings pleasant yet sad, feelings of longing for days that have been claimed by the past.
I have always loved the monsoon. I continue to love it. My love for it has never waned. I suppose all keralites have loved monsoon some time in their lives, because before we grew into adults, we were all children who yelled and screamed and ran into the open to get drenched by the first showers before the elders dragged us inside to safeguard us from the pollutants that the first rains bring down with it. When practical wisdom dawns on us, man becomes wary of the rains. It becomes the season of fevers and chills. It becomes the season when the going gets tough. It becomes the “rainy day” of the English idiom.
Monsoons dominate the imagination and conversation long before they actually arrive. Traditional households start preparing for the rains from January. If houses are to be painted, it has to be before the rains. Every minute of the scorching heat of summer is utilised to dry tamarind, raw mango, fish, tapioca - you name it. Those with stubborn loyalty to cotton saris, starch them in advance with a vengeance, while others who are practical refurbish their wardrobes with “Garden saris”, (as nylon type synthetic saris are called) for the monsoons.
In my home too, the monsoon mood arrived long before the showers actually came down to cool the molten hot earth. Every time the “mazhakaalam” (rainy season) was mentioned in the house (all elders and domestic helps mentioned it all the time in some context or the other), we children counted the days. Sometimes by mid May showers came but did not stay. Some called it summer showers while others, feelers sent out by monsoons. But these brief showers which were kind while they lasted, sent humidity shooting up with the return of the sun, and made summer more oppressive. When edavapaathi, as South west monsoon is called – arrived, it came in right royal style, pouring down like sheets of water, drenching the earth, cooling it, pausing and then pouring down again before the sun could get into action.
As a child, i loved the rains. As an adult too, i love it. My honeymoon with the monsoons was never over. It defied the laws of honeymoon. Even while i commuted 200 kilometres by train every day, or when my job involved travelling in overcrowded bus with rain pouring down mercilessly, or when i got drenched and had to walk into the classroom for my lectures in a sari wet and mud sullied at the bottom and the blouse sleeves wet and clinging uncomfortably to my arm depriving me of that portion of dignity i allotted to my sartorial self, i still loved the monsoon.
Why? I honestly do not know. Perhaps it evoked nostalgia of childhood days of coloured umbrellas and raincoats, of splashing water on my friends and siblings, of amma scolding and roughly drying my hair and giving me hot glass of ovaltine, of sitting in the class and looking at each other to find out who is the wettest of us all, of sister S once taking me to the boarding to give me a change of ill-fitting dress which made my class laugh when i walked in dry borrowed clothes of some obese senior.
Or maybe it is something in my personality which makes me feel comfortable with day when monsoon clouds hide the sun, making the day from morning to sunset look like evening. As a commuter, sometimes travelling in compartments flooded with rain water let in by the gap filled widows, I’ve heard people curse the rain. Hitching the sari up so that it remained above the ankle, I’ve silently told myself that it’s better than the scorching heat of summer which tires you out utterly. All i have to do once i reach home is to get into warm clothes after a shower and settle down before the TV with my children and a hot drink. The thought itself was so cosy that once a friend who was huffing and puffing, feeling harassed by the discomforts of the rains asked me why i was smiling to myself!
I’ll conclude this rather pointless rambling with a monsoon incident which visits me every year with the rains. I was in 5th standard, and went to St. Teresa’s school in Ernakulum. My house was quite far from the school, and my over protective mother never permitted me to walk back and forth to school alone. She either sent a familiar cycle rickshaw or the car. One year, the monsoons did not arrive on the first of June. It was delayed by a few days, and on a Wednesday, in the last period of the day, the world suddenly became dark. I felt the familiar thrill rise within me. I switched off from the classroom happenings and looked out at the sky from my window seat. I could feel the rains crouching and get tense up there before the leap. And then it came down. It poured with a thunderous sound. The music teacher stopped her struggle to teach the excited class “akhilanda mandapam”. She sat down while the excited class shouted at the top of their voices. The bell rang and i ran out with a few like me while others stood on the veranda shouting out to the teacher that we were playing in the rain. The teachers shouted their students back into the veranda and gave us a dressing down. We the students without umbrellas were asked to wait till the rains subsided and then go home.
Finally when we were allowed to go, it was some fifteen minutes after the bell. I ran to the place where our car was usually parked only to find its back disappearing way down the road. Now, you must be wondering how i recognised the car? Well, those were days when there were not many cars on the road. Traffic jams were unheard of in Ernakulum. Besides, my car was a Hindustan and was painted - hold your breath – parrot green. So everybody knew my car. As i stood watching the receding back of the car, the rain came down again, and i decided to run home. I didn’t want to wait for the car to come back, which i knew it surely would. So i ran, without umbrella or raincoat, with the light school bag strung across my chest and the Hawaii chapels splashing my uniform skirt with a generous quota of dirt.
As i crossed the MG road and entered the cutting to Chittor road at what is now the Shenoy's theatre. I saw the green Hindustan with its ugly face coming towards me. It stopped near me, and the back door opened to reveal the angry and anxious face of amma.
“Why didn’t you wait there? You knew the car would come back”
Now, how can i tell her i wanted to run in the rain and get wet? I was young but old enough to know that besides the anxiety about falling sick, there was this anxiety about a growing nazrani girl defying the laws of discipline prescribed for the poor girl children of the community.
“My friend gave me a lift”, i lied.
“Which friend? And why did she let you out in the rain instead of dropping you all the way home? And haven’t i told you not to accept lifts from anyone?”
It was better not to have lied, i realised, but to admit the lie would have raised issues of the breaking of the Ten Commandments. So i decided to take the lie forward.
“She said her father needed the car, so she’ll drop me here.”
“What?” Amma really looked angry. How can anyone do that to her little daughter whom she was bringing up like cut glass?
“Who is this girl? “She asked in that deadly quiet voice which warned me about giving any genuine name. I knew amma will drive straigt to the nonexitant friend’s house to speak sweetly but sternly to her mother.
“I don’t know her name, amma. She’s not in my class”, the lie began to take an identity.
“So you came with a person you don’t know at all? You don’t even know her name!”
“Amma, i see her every day, when i wait at Baby’s shop for the car or cycle rickshaw, but we’ve never spoken to each other”
The next day, as i was going to school, amma said; “Molly. Find out the name of the girl who gave you the lift yesterday. If she has a phone, get the number, and find out where she lives”.
I realised that if i didn’t kill that lie, it’ll haunt me and hunt me.
“Amma, i will not do it.”, i said.
“Why?” she asked angrily.
“If i get her details, you’ll go and talk to her mother. Then she will come to school and tell all her friends and my class mates and they will ostracise me. If that happens, I’ll never never go to school again’.
That did it. Amma knew she’d have trouble with me if what i feared happened. So she let it go at that, but not before extracting a promise from me that i’ll never ever take a lift from strangers.
Even the week before she died, almost a quarter century after this episode, she spoke to me about it, and expressed horror at me being left out in the open all alone to brave the rain. She was a much more mellowed person by then and i was sorely tempted to tell her the truth. But something prevented me from destroying that resentment that she nursed for so long.
We humans sometime need certain shadows to be used as punching bags, and if those shadows vanish, they leave behind a certain vacuum which might let in more hostile shadows.