ग़ालिब छुटी शराब, पर अब भी कभी कभी
पीता हूँ रोज़-ए-अब्र-ओ-शब-ए-माहताब में
- मिर्जा गालिब
I like the rains too. Any of us, cannot not like the rains. They are freedom from the oppressive summers, freedom from being cooped up in ACs, freedom to enjoy a fresh drenched breeze from your window; freedom announced by black clouds on the horizon, playing hide and seek with the morning sun. If we refuse to pay attention in the evenings, when there’s no sun, they thunder away, flashing and roaring, invoking ancient alpha male gods.
Seeing the 'kale megha' on the horizon is something our cultural memory has forever demanded from god, starting from Vedic saints to miniaturists to poets to the movies to modern governments. In summers, the heat scorches, baking the earth and cracking it into pieces. Wild winds called the ‘loo’ run through the deserts burning all in their path. The forests go dry - cinders waiting for a fire, and animals and humans both travel farther and farther away every day to search for their everyday stores. In Mumbai, the BMC implements water cuts and in Rajasthan the government slows the supply to a trickle. Temperatures soar with pouring sweat, till everyone, like every year in the history of this land, looks heavenward in expectation. The country awaits the news of the first showers in Kerala, like a family preparing for the grand arrival of an ever wayward but important guest.
It is the rains which brought with them trade, life and commerce to the land. The prolific Indian ocean trade was driven by the monsoon winds. Traders arrived from western lands, first Rome and then Arabia and finally from Europe, flying their masts high, driven by the rush of winds called the Southwest monsoon, bringing prosperity to the ancient ports dotting the western coasts of India – Muzhir, Sopara, Chaul, Surat and so on. Cities flowered on the hinterland, watered by rain-fed rivers and fed through trade routes, which still mark the lay of the land. Here bloomed the culture and the religion that decorated the subcontinent.
Kalidasa wrote the ultimate book on the monsoons, the Meghadootam or 'cloud messenger', layering romance - forbidden, sanctioned and that in between with separation and nostalgia in the midst of the rains. Our classical music has a special set of ragas – the Malhars, celebrating the effervescence of the monsoons, invoking the moods of the season. When miniaturists describe the seasons of love, which is essentially all seasons, they cannot but reserve a special place for ‘Savan’ - the monsoons, with its wet rainy evenings delaying meetings and enhancing the fervour of the Nayak and the Nayika. Poets of urdu like Ghalib and Faiz celebrate it as the most perfect of weathers for wine-drinking. Any other land, with weaker cultural ties, could not have produced works of this magnificence on the clouds and the monsoon.
The rains are liberating, and also acutely, life giving. The fragility of life on this planet, the cycle of water and its unending foreverness are imprinted in the drops of water falling from the sky. As droplets fly off still water's surface, come together wandering in the skies and then decide to find their way on land again, sometimes falling on your face, you cannot but wonder, if this is magical. I received a lot of flak in high school for calling it so, but I still do. Sometimes, when you see that one drop, you can only wonder which oceans was it last a part of, which winds carried it this way, where is it going to go and how.
Sometimes when the rains do not fall, to the cracked parched earth is added the picture of skeletons. Animals die by the hundreds as flies falling off after a pesticide spray. Famine threatens, hissing with a raised hood, tongue flickering, teeth ready. Starvation is still heard of in the remote corners, though to city ears – working the treadmills, the movies would perhaps sound more real.
Sometimes when the rains do fall, they try to make up in one place for what they could not do elsewhere. Water flowing down the mountains does not have the time or inclination to make it’s way into the caked earth and it overflows taking with it entire villages, towns, cities, wiping them off existence. Human and animal carcasses flow on the raging waters like straws on a stream, mountains slide in obeisance and even the gods sometimes, are not spared.
Drought and floods come together, every year, as good neighbours. Rivers are linked in the books of a government department, every year, unconcerned by reality. Little affected by modern irrigation, we still predict our inflation and food produce to the actual rains. The image of a forlorn farmer standing on a piece of parched cracked land calculating his sowing time, repenting the arrival of the rains too early or too late seems destined to be etched in our consciousness.
More immediately, inside of Mumbai, in this season, it is happy brown slush rolling around on the streets with cars competing to splash it on anyone in striking distance. A splurge of colourful umbrellas sprout on the streets, converging together and blooming near the railway stations, every instant, as the masses come and go. Trains slow down to languorous snaking speeds, paying homage to thunder gods and the mini lakes that appear on tracks. Traffic crawls, roads turn moon-like and wipers move faster than wheels.
Sometimes, from my office, when the view of the sea-link is drenched out of view by hordes of obstructing raindrops and streams of water slithering down the glass panes, I know it's raining. On other days, it is the glaring misty white that brings with it drizzling and foreshadows a shower. I can see the seas getting restless, changing colours on the horizon, splashed by the drops. The change in colour moves closer and closer till it reaches the shore and drops splash window panes. Some days when we go out on the balcony, the city seems to be watered by a garden hose, with the steady streams being sculpted into an ever evolving harmony by the gusts of winds. Drops dance to the movement of an orchestra, speaking to one another and to us, whispering their secrets.
At home, the showers pitter and patter, relentlessly knocking to let them in unlike the old Mumbai of yore, where they would just enter, wetting the doorstep, claiming rights to guesthood or 'atithi satkar', bringing with them, the pervasive smell of wet earth and creating outside the perfect streams for paper boat races. When we were out of paper, matchsticks would also do.
In the Maharashtra of fogless winters, it is only in the rains of the Sahyadris, that you can find bliss. Swathes of grass covered mountain turn dark green from brown. Streams rush forward from the top, flooding old foot roads and stone steps that may be hundreds of years old, making their way down, gushing and roaring in the numerous waterfalls that translate the once desolate landscape to an unruly primal garden. The winds rush, guiding the direction of the fall of water and sometimes, the water falls down, loses determination and rides up with the wind again. If you stand on the top of mountains, you can get wet in this instant 'horizontal' rain.
The streams also take with them mud, uncovering the mountain ever so slightly and working on the landscape, sculpting it, every year. Sometimes, they uncover debris which our ancestors from the unremembered, unspoken, uncultured past left behind. This is the debris of mini stone tools and other paraphernalia fashioned by the hands of man tens of thousands of years ago, that collect where the streams are obstructed and if you decide to explore the lesser traveled routes, you may still find them lying around, waiting to be picked up.
They are waiting to remind you and connect you to the ties that bind you to earliest man on this land: the ties of wonder at the magic of the rains.