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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Listen to the falling rain...

Yes, there is no sweeter sound than that of the Indian monsoon pouring down

As I sit down to write this, the skies have darkened outside and the rain is pelting down. There is something intrinsically hypnotic about its rhythmic cadence. And despite my best efforts to stay indifferent to its charms, the downpour draws me in.

I find myself staring at the raindrops like one mesmerised, tracking the progress of each fat droplet, watching as it splatters down on my window-sill. I watch fascinated as the areca palm on the balcony gets wiped clean of all its dust and grime, emerging from this cleansing looking greener than ever. And that evocative smell of petrichor – as the rain hits parched ground and releases the scent of the vegetable oils absorbed by it during the heat of summer – brings back memories of monsoons past.

As you can probably tell by now, I love the rain. I love its sounds, its smells, and its sights. And I love the fact that it comes around faithfully every year, bringing us respite from the dusty, dry heat of the Indian summer.

Even if you are a city-dweller who is no great fan of Nature, you cannot deny that there is something ineffably reassuring about the arrival of the monsoon. Its annual visit, at roughly the same time, give or take a week or two, tells us that the world is still spinning around nicely. It signals the end of summer and takes us through to the balmy nights of autumn. And no matter how sparse or bountiful the rain, it lifts our spirits, which have been wilting under the incessant, unrelenting heat of the sub-continent.

It’s no surprise, then, that nobody gets the romance of the rains quite like we do in India. Almost everywhere else in this sunshine-obsessed world, a rainy day is always a matter of some disappointment. Generations of British children have grown up on the nursery ditty, ‘Rain, rain, go away; Come again another day...’ In America, people aspire to retire to the sunshine states of California and Florida. And in the cold climes of Europe where warmth is always at a premium, the arrival of rain is not something that is ever celebrated.

Not so in India. In part, this is because of our peculiar climate conditions. Summers are hot, dry and punishing. And then, just when you think that you simply can’t take even one more day of that scorching heat, the monsoons come with their dark clouds, their thunder and lightning, their sharp showers, and their gift of lower temperatures. How can you not dance with joy at their arrival?

But that’s just part of the story. Far more important is the fact that there seems to be something unique in the Indian psyche that responds with blissful ardour to the sight of those grey, gleaming clouds that come bearing rain.

Our literature bears witness to that love. Probably the most famous Sanskrit poem ever, Kalidasa’s Meghaduta, is about a cloud. A Yaksha who has been exiled importunes a passing cloud to carry a message to his wife on Mount Kailash. He tries to convince the cloud to take on the task by describing the many beautiful sights it will witness on its way.

Ever since, clouds and the rains have been a recurring theme in our history, literature and legend. Emperor Akbar’s court musician, Miyan Tansen is widely credited with performing the Raga Megha Malhar to bring the rains down (he is also supposed to have sung Raga Deepak to make the candles light up spontaneously – but that, as they say, is yet another apocryphal story).

More recently, Hindi cinema has done its bit to shore up the tradition of ‘rain songs’, celebrating the arrival of the monsoons with an obligatory sequence of a curvaceous heroine in a sari getting soaked to the skin. But the most iconic scene ever remains that of Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Shree 420, nestling under one black umbrella in the pouring rain as they look deep into each other’s eyes and sing, ‘Pyar huwa, ikrar huwa hai; pyar se phir kyun darta hai dil’.

The rain gods were evoked to great effect by Dev Anand in Guide, with the S.D Burman number, ‘Allah megh de, paani de’ becoming something of a classic. And that same tortured longing for rain and the joy when it finally arrives was portrayed decades later in Aamir Khan’s Lagaan with the haunting A.R. Rahman score of ‘Ghanan ghanan ghir ghir aaye badraa’.

And now, in the days of social media, my twitter timeline comes alive with tweets extolling the rain as soon as the first drops fall. My friend, the journalist Smita Prakash, has a particularly evocative phrase for it; she calls it ‘Clooney weather’ in honour of her heartthrob George Clooney. Former RAW chief, Vikram Sood, crows about how his ‘gulmohur is singing’ in the rain. Even Pamela Timms, food writer and a Brit – not a people generally not known for their love of wet weather – tweets a link to a Bollywood rain song as the skies pour down.

As for me, I can’t quite explain why (or how) but a rain shower has the power to transform me back into the little girl who would strip down to her chemise and run up to the terrace to get a good old dousing the moment the first drops hit dry ground. Of course, being all grown up now, I desist from such childish antics – but God, how I wish I was six again!


Simple Indian said...

Nice article, and a roller-coaster of a ride through ancient history, literature, movies, etc. Wow !
Made me feel nostalgic about my childhood days when I unabashedly played in the rains, unlike now. Thanks to our tropical climate, we have a hot & dry, or hot & humid weather, depending on which part of India we are in, for most part of the year. No wonder, we look forward to the refreshing monsoons as a welcome relief from simmering summers. And oh, the smell of wet mud on the first rains !
But thanks to global warming and other drastic climate changes, rains are becoming unpredictable too. Whoever would have imagined floods, of all the places - in Rajasthan !!
Yet, with all its inconveniences (on a weekday), I am certainly not the one to say "Rainy days and Mondays get me down", much as I love to hum lovely n soothing Carpenters number of the '60s-'70s.

P.S.: Noticed a font change of your column the last time n this one. Pls revert to the old one, which will make reading easier for 4-eyed folks like me. Always a pleasure reading your column though. Thanx.

kislay said...

The last paragraph of this spirit igniting article reminds me of my childhood.
It was one of my incessant habits to carry an umbrella with me during my school days to keep myself protected from everything but the rain. My Umbrella was so integrated with my personality that I was nick named ‘Chatrapati’ by someof my close school friends. I still have this name addressed in my school scrapbook. But while all my friends used to open their umbrellas and scurry to their homes seeing the dark clouds I used to hide my umbrella and slow down my steps to drench myself. But this practice was till one fine day I found my mom not so happy with it and I had to desist myself from this childish antics.
But those were the days of Graham Bell when we really used to enjoy rain without caring for our cell phone.
I think it is sometimes important to carry your childhood within you to slow down life’s decay.