Years later, when I called up home from a sweltering Delhi in July – full and tense like a fat raindrop hanging from the roof ledge and unable to fall – I would try to recover some of the heady atmosphere of the mossy, incessant, cold rain of my childhood. On phone, my laughing Ma would put my yearning in place. Yes, saawan-bhado is here, she’d say… yes, you’re right, it’s indeed barkha bahaar... and the whole house is fragrant with the smell of wet dog…”.
Monsoon in Dehradun was not so much of a stormy exclamation mark as an implacable ellipsis bearing much endlessness. It set about its task with a grave playfulness that went on for days. It made the leaves glossy and full and the grass irrepressible. It did not let up even after the snails, earthworms and the occasional snake had emerged. Those that did not resist it – like trees and street children – become merry and redolent of life. Those that did resist – like the house, or people – became creakier, leaky and full of unexpected little crises like falling plaster and fungal infections.
Ma was right. The wet and harassed dogs always managed to make their way within – at least one of the six doors that led into the house was bound to be ajar, at least one of the people who lived there was bound to develop a compassionate chink in their soggy armour. Once in, they would take up a safe position under the dining table, tuck both paws under their chin and settle down to looking at the wet world with silent reproach.
The world seemed composed entirely of grey-black nimbus and a charged sky. Tiny human-scale houses and trees give them scope and context. The water condensed and fell, condensed and fell, like this would now be the natural order of things forever. It fell on this patch of the earth which had been woodland next to a river – a pahaadi naala called Rispana – just a few decades before I was born. It seeped into the soil and nourished and replenished and made fecund. It became the root of a new grass shoot, a stronger tree root. It made its way to the food chain, it played its part in the water cycle, it inveigled itself into the sensual sequence, it thickened the emotional circuit.
It’s not just the cloud-drop-earth continuum that makes the rain, we know. Rain is being made here on Baba’s forearm as he shivers and draws the khes – lighter than a blanket, heavier than a sheet – upon him. It’s being made here in didi’s desire for something crunchy and oily. Here, as we bite into that pataud, looking out of the window at the downpour, our tongues sharp with desire. Chachi and Ma have no choice but to worry about clothes not drying in time, but I can allow the cold moist wind to make my 15-year-old self feel a beauty and longing I don’t understand. Vaporous and being pulled, like the drops pulled by gravity. The rain is inside, on the skin, somewhere in the gut.