by Chitralekha Sreejai
October monsoon begins with an anticipation. The clouds array in the mind much ahead of time. And then as the dawn breaks one day, the skies rumble and the heart suddenly becomes wobbly. Sure enough outside the window, darkness would be spreading in….deeper and deeper. Thunder claps across the sky. Lightening sizzles. Rain downs in full rage with thunder and lightning. It pours without cessation continuously the whole day with strong winds. The wind perched on the trees hits the face in full force and sprays a whiff of emotions to a vacant mind.
It was the most powerful rain of those days that I had ever witnessed before or hence, that day. The green paddy fields behind Ammamma’s1 home blurred in the heavy rain; hazy greens hidden by the heavy translucent water curtains. The silver threads slammed on the earth and muddy water gushed to the lower land near the fields. Trees bent and swung. Flowers drenched.
Ammamma shut the windows as the wind pulled it back strongly and lashed the rain in. The mind gave my book a temporary break and I began loving the darkness and the coolness and the thrashing sound of the downpour outside.
Ammamma was upset that the wild rain brought down two coconut trees in the backyard. She murmured under her breath and climbed downstairs to the kitchen. I heard her scolding Gangamma, her eternally loyal help, for leaving her mundu2 in the rain.
I wished I had not taken a head-bath that day. The hair was damp and so oily. I grumbled at Ammamma for having emptied so much oil in my hair. Ammamma gently says how girls look beautiful in long oily tresses. She explains how oil application is necessary for demarcating civilised people from the uncivilised. Ammamma’s oil was medicated with so many herbs that grew around the home. She filled the red oil in a large Horlicks bottle and it gave out an absolutely exquisite fragrance, but although I liked the smell of the oil, I didn’t like Ammamma putting it on my hair. She was too generous with the oil application and the discomfort itched me from inside on such rainy days.
Ammamma is frying some snacks downstairs. The smell is heavenly. I gobbled a mouthful of the snacks and handed over some to old Nadar who lit a beedi3 crouching in the veranda.
“This rain is sure to bring some evil.” Nadar mumbled. Sure enough that night thunder fell on the neighbourhood burning a thatched roof.
It grew dark early in the October monsoon days. The rain had thinned down considerably and stopped by dusk but soon the oil lamp in the Tulasithara4 sputtered in another drizzle and Ammamma decided there is no use lighting it again. Half an hour later the rain raged again; the wind howling and trees dangerously swaying. Ammamma asks me to recite the prayers loudly in the puja room when fury is unleashed such as this; despite that it was hardly audible in the sound of the rain thrashing outside. The idols were decorated with flower garlands in all colours. I found devotion too rains in the minds more on such dark rainy nights. The sound of raindrops on banana leaves heard like the thudding of a thousand drums. Insects fluttered around the tube light on the veranda. I caught an occasional glimmer of fireflies wandering amidst the dark trees their lights fading out in the rain.
Poetry bloomed in the mind on such rainy nights. That fantasy filled rainy night; I wrote my mind….”The rain” caught the eye of some of the elders. That was the day a castaway dreamer was brought to the dais. I was asked to read my poem aloud to the family group. The benevolence of my maternal people used to be heart-warming. As were they extra harsh in criticisms, so were they extra generous in showering accolades. I remember the chocolates and the bear hugs that followed in the joyous hour of the recognition of an artistic potential.
There was a distinct smell of rain always thronging in the home which stirred me up and made me vulnerable to emotions. On dark rainy nights I lay cosily on Ammamma’s lap the maternal smell of her sari and the rain creating a balmy effect on the head.
I watch the lizards hanging listlessly on the wall. Insects buzzed about the tube light in the room. The street lamp blurred in the rain. The elephant pond overflowed. Rain swirled over the trees and roofs exuding the most exhilarating of all smells…the fragrance of the ecstatic earth. The rain sweeps through the ventilators and wets the cot where I lay with Ammamma.
“What a heavy rain”, I exclaimed to Ammamma with the love and fear alternating in the mind as Ammamma parted my hair and combed down. Ammamma laughed, “This is no rain my child, what about that rain …the rain that brought the flood”. Ammamma remembered vividly and often talked of that rain, possibly the heaviest rain and flood of her life which she had witnessed in her younger days. I could picture vividly as she narrated-the flood water gushing down sweeping everything on its way …trees, logs, cattle, people…
The paddy fields behind Ammamma’s home would be submerged now probably, I thought. In the morning there would be just a muddy sea beyond. It would take many days to see the green again. One generation back the paddy fields probably had a different tone of colour more rich and wild than I find it now. They were greener and more rustic, I gathered from family stories. The canals gurgled and flowed in the incessant rains. The dark nights were darker and the window from the bedroom overlooked to the dark fields submerged in darkness. Jackals hooted in the dark and their eyes glistened in the dark in the fields. I vividly saw them all within and I am thrilled at those…the inspirations from nature, the silent call, the beauty in its wilderness. How much we lose with each generation! I wish sometimes I were born sometime before than I was, perhaps a generation before, just to see those paddy fields greener, lusher with wilderness running along its face…
The rain did not stop the next day too… it rained the whole day… and night… heavily……..
Notes on The Rains of Those Days:
1 Maternal grandmother
2 White garment worn around the waist
3 Local Indian cigarette
4 A bed of holy basil plants traditionally worshipped