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Opinion:The Romance of the Monsoon

June 2007
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

our faces.

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

in Bombay.

And if you'll excuse me, about now I feel

the urge to get wet.


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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