We are truly blessed to have five seasons — summer, spring, monsoon, autumn, winter — each making its presence felt in the way we lead our lives.
Each season comes with its own distinctive character and set of peculiarities, its peonies-in-my-garden feeling and prickly situations.
Yet, it is the monsoon that we romance the most, over and above our brief flirtations with “Dilli ki Sardi” or “It’s snowing in Shimla”, or the summer sunsets in Kausani.
It is an intrinsically strong love affair we have with the rainy season. We love it, despite water-logging of our streets, partial flooding of our homes, the unwelcome presence of smut and spores, the mustiness that sets in and is difficult to shake off, the leeches and ants, the soaked-to-the-bone mishaps as we struggle with pretty umbrellas turning turtle on us.
Monsoon returns our affection by inspiring us like little else does. From creative writing to penning of songs, from painting to lateral thinking, it seems to rain ideas and inspiration and stirs something soulful within us.
It is like the moment of truth. Everybody has one or maybe several. So it is with times of inspiration. Everybody has that reference of sight, smell, sound, touch, feeling or piece of imagination that inspires.
For me, one of the strongest times of inspiration is when the sky opens to pour its heart out in a manner unrestrained and unabashed. The good thing is I am not the only one raising a toast to the rains.
From Bollywood’s "Tip Tip Tip Tip Baarish" to Hollywood’s Gene Kelly tap-dancing to the beats of the pelting rain; from Pop music’s "Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain" and "Raindrops keep falling on my head", to Raag Megh Malhar; from art to fiction to poetry; monsoon has always inspired the positive and bright side of things all over the world and from time immemorial. So, who am I to remain stoic towards such a divine sensuous intervention!
But the charm of monsoon has everything to do with the place where you are. Imagine the traffic-jamming, gutter-flowing, drain-clogging, humid rains of Delhi, and you will instantly know what I mean.
My association with the monsoon spans different continents and saddles varied time zones. There have been the good times and the not so good.
Walking on an old street in quaint little Alexandria in Virginia to the tune of talented buskers playing to the gallery, with dogs of various shapes and sizes and their owners — so much the same — for company.
Cruising over River Seine in the heart of Paris with soft rain caressing my face like a paramour would. Raindrops falling on my head in picturesque Engelberg at the foothills of Mt. Titlis in Switzerland, falling in step with the jingling of cowbells.
The smell of earth after the first fall of rain has always been romanticised. [Photo: Reuters]
The other lovely brush with rains that will remain forever in my mental scrap book is being driven around in a black BMW convertible by an old friend in the wavy range of the Topanga Canyon, in the Santa Monica Mountains. Like a stubborn lover, I refused to get the hood over, just as it began to rain down feather fine drops, each as pleasant as a gentle kiss.
But not quite the torrential rains in Amsterdam ruining our otherwise pleasant canal cruise — said to be the best way to see the city. Or the angry downpour in Volderdam that drowned all our plans to seek vicarious pleasure in the country’s famed and legal night life! Not even the angry, unabated lashing that kept us under house arrest once in Bangkok, another time in Lansdowne, yet another in Goa!
The best and the strongest memories are those that belong to the hazy realms of childhood and are either exhilaratingly or excruciatingly sensory. The whiff of a freshly baked apple pie from a loving mother’s kitchen on a rain-kissed Sunday, or the set-in-stone fragrance of aftershave used by Dad as he stepped under the stretched-out umbrella to be walked to the waiting staff car come flooding back to me every monsoon.
Even the blotches from jumped-in puddles on spic-and-span white uniforms — a mandate at super-strict convents — have been hard to wash away from the memory bank. Such has been the dalliance with monsoon.
Rain has also been a sort of personal hideaway, lending a sense of secrecy and privacy even when in public. Whether it was pining for my unrequited love in my infatuation years as I call them, or remembering a loving father who went away too soon, or now losing my furry children, when it’s time to shed copious tears, crying in the rain bears such a special significance. It lets you be, yet it guards you from the harsh, judging glares from others.
The smell of earth after the first fall of rain has always been romanticised, with volumes of poetry and film lyrics wasted on it. It continued to stay inspiring for me too until that telling moment when a desensitized science-type friend opened my eyes to it.
She matter-of-factly stated that it was actually earthworms that smelt thus, and it was not the heavenly marriage of waters from the sky and mother earth that led to it. Sadly, "petrichor" will never have the same sensorial influence it once did. Even the name sounds so prosaic and earthy.
My fondest association with monsoon is in idyllic Dehradun, nostalgic memories of which act as perfect stress busters even today. Living in my mother’s mansion had its privileges. For one, you could always see the many moods of Mussoorie — the Queen of Hills — through the day or night by just peering over the boundary wall and looking up to the nearest cluster of clouds on your right.
Trying to spot Muss (that’s what the hill station is called in local parlance) in the peak of monsoon wasn’t easy, but certainly a lot of fun. Raindrops tingling my head in misty Mussoorie as I walked the length of the scenic Camel’s Back Road was also an oft-repeated heady romance that brutally ended when on one such trek, I was horrified to discover a leech crawl up my ankle.
Walking barefoot on the freshly rained-upon soft, velvety front lawns at home is an experience that gives a long run to squishing sand in between your toes at some touristy beach.
One of the nicest things about my mother’s abode is its big windows with a view on every side. After having worked with the hospitality industry for more than two decades, I can tell you authoritatively that hotels charge a premium for a good view. So imagine rooms with wonderful views all my growing up years.
My mother had nimble green fingers and we enjoyed, amply, the fruit of her labour. She had developed her backyard into a mini orchard with myriad fruit trees — mangoes, peaches, plum, pears, apples, litchi, grape fruit, papaya, even grapes — that provided shade from the summer sun, swayed to the spring breeze, shed their coats in autumn and lent that extra chill to the winter.
But it was monsoon when they looked their prettiest best. Freshly scrubbed, in lovely shades of green, either cradling crystal-clear pearls on their belly or with rows of diamond-like raindrops hanging from their edges!
It doesn’t take the eye of an artist to appreciate this breathtaking sight. If I was deft with the brush, you would have seen several canvases titled RAIN in my home studio. But I chose to sing an ode to it right from the time of amateurish poetry to the time when, as a professional creative writer with India’s greetings card giant, I sold mush to couples in as far and wide places as India, Europe and the Americas.
Walking barefoot on the freshly rained-upon soft, velvety front lawns at home is a chesrished experience. [Photo: Reuters]
Another nice monsoon sight is the lovely white wildflowers that take over a full hillside or come up around brooks. The off-white wild mushrooms along the grass or by tree trunks are quite irresistible too. I remember picking the flowers and the mushrooms in my cane basket and bringing them home. They would sit pretty in a corner as I would get lost in my Enid Blyton or Lewis Carroll through the afternoon, with the big toadstool, typically, assuming a character in my favourite story.
Monsoon is also about food. Who can resist the wafting aroma of hot pakoras or delicious samosas to be devoured with tangy mint chutney and a piping hot cup of tea? Back home, I would often bake the most luscious of sponge cakes (and I do have the nicest of recipes) on a rain-soaked afternoon.
The smell would engulf the whole house, as I would bring the cake out to the kitchen table, drive a knife through the hot center and serve it with melted chocolate. These days I do hot aubergine slices with salsa toppings or baked cheese on potato dices with a dash of oregano and chilli peppers. The result is as mesmerizing.
Rainy season is once again here. Delhi may still not be up to it with constantly irritating constructions happening everywhere. But a short sojourn to Doon over a wet weekend is certainly within our reach.
Anybody who wields a pen almost always has a book in them. So, come rains and I am off to the family pad in my favourite valley, succumbing to the muse in the lap of inspiration in nature’s inimitable style.
And what’s your dance in the rain going to look like?