The young man from Nigeria wants to teach the international delegates at an Aflatoun conference on social and financial education at the Hague, Netherlands, something.
“You ever made a thunderstorm?”
“No,” we chorus. We shout it loud. It’s an ice-breaker before we start decoding how to teach children across the world what inflation can do to their lives. We are supposed to shout.
“You gonna make one now,” he says. “Now the rain is patting the sand, piff-paff, piff paff.”And he begins to tap a single finger on his palm. We all tap our fingers and suddenly, yes, there it is, in cold and windy Holland, the sound of a warm rain offering the seductions of water to red soil.
“Now it’s coming on the palm tree leaves,” he says and begins to add fingers. We all add fingers and yes, there’s the insistent rhythms of water on foliage.
“But oh my, oh my, it’s coming down out of the sky,” he says, and begins a full-fledged clapping. We’re clapping too and laughing and it’s raining and we’re children in the rain and our bodies are soaking and our grannies are yelping at us, “Come in out of the rain, you monkeys,” and in Bombay, we’re saying, under our breaths, “Monkey, donkey, elephant, cow, sitting in the bathroom and making pulao.” We’re laughing and gasping and gulping.
“Ooh, it’s the big rain, the big big rain,” says the young man and he’s drumming his feet now and we’re all drumming and sweating and loving it. It’s the rain, and it will make things grow and it will clean the air and everything will stand out, bright, stark, each leaf fine-edged against the other. Now is the time of the squelch of growth and the anarchy of life. The dead order of summer is done. Let it rain.
“Cloud is tired now, cloud wanna go home,” says the man. “Cloud says, enough for today,” and he stops his drumming.
“Rain go that way, that way, man,” and he stops clapping, but keeps on tapping with all fingers.
“Rain in another town now,” he says and it’s only a finger and we’ve sent the rain off to work its magic in the next mohalla.
I am eight years old now and it’s night and it’s raining, a Bombay rain. This means it’s come in time for school the next day. The Duckback raincoats are waiting, so are the gumboots. They will go through their baptism with fire. They are all we have to keep our schoolbooks dry. We will become little hunchbacks now, each child with a school satchel strapped to her or his back and the raincoat falling over it. We will hunker down and make our way to school. The class will not smell of petrichor; it will smell of rubber shoes and toejam.
But it is night now and school is hours away and I am near my Mum and the rain is pattering on the tin chhajja outside.
“I love that sound,” I say to my mother whose eyes are faraway and sad. I can tell it’s not her depression this time.
“Yes,” she says. “Yes.”
There was a ‘but’ floating in the warm damp air.
“I think of the poor and how miserable it must be to be on the streets with the rain coming down,” she said. “And nowhere to dry your clothes and the rain trickling in everywhere.” The sound on the chhajja was not as comforting now. I don’t like this.
“I like to get wet,” I say, even though I know I’m being stupid.
“That’s because you know you can get dry again.”
She was right. My friend Christine Rogers has taken photographs of young Indian couples from the plains of the Punjab and the coasts of the peninsula, lying in the snow in Sikkim, in shorts and t-shirts. They’re enjoying the cold. They can enjoy it because they will get back into their heated SUVs and drink coffee and go back to rooms smelling of pine wood. Discomfort can be comfort if it can be banished. It’s just like a horror movie. The end credits roll and you’re back in a world where hands don’t crawl out of the walls to drag you down into the pit.
I like, sometimes, to draw a line between the sound of the rain on the chhajja and me on the International Board of Aflatoun, an NGO that now spans a hundred and more countries, and, on MelJol India; me as a trustee of the Sound and Picture Archive for Research on Women (SPARROW), me as a trustee on the People’s Free Reading Room & Library board.
I think my mother and the Bombay rains planted a social consciousness in me.
Thank you, rain.
Jerry Pinto is a Mumbai-based author, poet and translator.
Prince Lunawara is a Mumbai-based illustrator and graphic designer.