Opinion:The Romance of the Monsoon
They called it a pre-monsoon shower, the
one that pounded Bombay on the first
day of June some years ago. I was in the
fevered state I customarily am in as June rolls
around, a state the May heat induces, a state
best be described as "yearning for rain."
So I was thrilled with the June 1 deluge.
Sure, by complex meteorological calculations
it was perhaps merely a pre-monsoon
shower. To me—as I sat on a little parapet that
morning, watching the clouds grow swiftly
darker, the wind whip up little dust devils, the
first few drops thump heavily around me and
then turn into a serious downpour—it was
the monsoon come again. And like every year,
I felt the warm tingle flooding upwards from
my toes. I breathed deeply of that intoxicating
earth smell, marveled at the sudden coolness,
quaked as thunder boomed overhead. And all
over again, I thanked somebody that I was
right here, right now, to enjoy the start of the
monsoon. Certainly, by the time September
comes around I am thoroughly sick of the rain,
dirt, umbrellas that break, floods, the feeling
of being slightly damp all day. But in June,
there's nothing quite like that first rain of the
season. Pity the numberless hordes across the
globe who don't know it!
And in fact, on a recent visit to the States,
I ventured out one evening into what the radio
told me insistently was "very heavy rain." I
thought to myself, not for the first time, "They
call this heavy rain?" In Bombay, we'd laugh.
One year, the monsoon blew in on the
wings of a cyclone. That night, the wind
howled through the trees, slamming our
windows and doors shut. The rain wasn't
heavy at first, though it became heavier as the
night wore on. The thought, when it came,
was irresistible. How about a walk along
the nearby seashore? The rain in our faces,
the wind in our hair ? In minutes, we were
there, laughing and cavorting, wet like we had
been dunked. It was an extra-dark night, I
remember. Some bright lights out at sea were
the only gaps in the blackness. But we had
little time to be curious about odd lights, just
enjoying the feel of the rain. With the wind, it
was as if hundreds of small wet thorns were
whizzing through the air and slamming into
I returned home with adrenalin flowing,
charged up like I hadn't been in weeks.
And that night the cyclone was even
stronger than we knew. The next morning, an
astonishing sight. A huge ship, run aground
on the rocks just offshore, no more than 150
yards away. Ah yes, those lights at night out at
sea, that's what they were about. The freighter
lay like some hulking sea beast, silent and
looming. Already, people were thronging to
look at it, Bombay's newest tourist attraction.
A shipwreck, of all things! In the thousands
they came, for weeks and months afterwards.
The ship lay there for two years, to us always a
reminder of a wild, beautiful June night when
on that stretch of shore, it was the wind, a
new monsoon, a ship heading for disaster on
the rocks ? and us.
The monsoon comes every year, I know. In
that banal sense, it is routine and predictable,
I also know. But banal and predictable don't
capture how the first cloudburst never fails to
delight. How it always packs that breathtaking
punch. How it is such a decisive answer to
long days of draining, wearying May heat.
Not that the May heat does not have its
compensations, of course. When the gulmohur
trees outside our home burst into flaming
red and orange, I can't help the indulgent
thought that our balcony is, bar none, the
most spectacular spot in the city. Almost overnight,
the trees go from nondescript green to
that vivid, livid color. Within days, the flowers
drift down, turning our drab compound into
a lush carpet.
Summer's here again: I know when the
gulmohur blooms. In Bombay, that can only
mean mangoes. I know it's an illusion, but every
year the orchards seem to have been more
fecund than ever. We are overrun with carts
and baskets full of the luscious yellow fruit,
bursting with ripe flesh and sweet juice, here
in opulent variety. Though you know your true
Bombayite by the way he dismisses all but the
exquisitely shaped Alphonso, the King of fruit.
Of any other mangoes, he'll say derisively:
"Those are not mangoes!"
So in May, I think: so what if it's hot as
hell and I'm never quite free of sweat? There
are mangoes to be eaten! All month long, it
seems, my fingers and face remain in a permanent
state of stickiness. Then June arrives, and
I think: so what if it's going to be a long 12
months before I get mangoes again? The rains
are here! And in a flash, they have washed
away May's sweat and stickiness.
That's why mangoes and gulmohurs are
just the advance notice, only a reminder that
summer must give way to the rains. They
point the way to that release from the heat
we all long for, the magnificent climax of that
first rain that always seems to know when May
has turned to June.
In his scrumptious Chasing The Monsoon,
Alexander Frater wrote of watching the monsoon
break on Kovalam beach in Kerala. "Everyone
shrieked and grabbed at each other,"
Frater wrote. In his case, that meant the darkeyed
woman to his right, and this is how he
described the moment:
Her streaming pink sari left her smooth
brown tummy bare. We held hands much more
tightly than was necessary and, for a fleeting moment,
I understood why Indians traditionally regard
the monsoon as a period of torrid sexuality.
Then, as the deluge really begins in Kovalam,
she is gone.
A momentary romance, that quick magic
sensuality, the wisp of a mystery—this is the
stuff of the monsoon. Yeah, I'll be cursing it
as July wears on into August and September.
But in June, it's an entirely different emotion. I
felt it on the seashore that night with the odd
lights, I felt it on the parapet that June 1, and
I feel it building as I write this, knowing that
when you read these words, it will be pouring
And if you'll excuse me, about now I feel
the urge to get wet.
By DILIP D'SOUZA
A computer scientist by training, Dilip D'Souza
now writes for his supper in Bombay. His main
interests are social and political issues in India.
Wanna Get Wet
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