A faint prickliness at the back of your neck is usually the first sign. Another is the ivory haze in the sky. Then, over the distant mountains, you notice a darkening: dove grey, turning to bruised gunmetal, gradually smudging out the peaks and ridges entirely — a cloudfield that stretches to every horizon. Faintly at first, the rumbles of artillery thunder, shaking the distant mountains, reverberate louder with every salvo. You feel suddenly upbeat because, they say, negative ions have charged the air.
Then, you notice the sudden silence and stillness. The birds have stopped singing. The mountains are now completely shrouded. You are suddenly aware of a susurration, like the distant sound of surf on a beach. It’s the rain hushing through the pines, deodars and oaks, still standing straight and tall. Then, a metallic plinking and clinking on the slate roof — as if a handful of pebbles have just landed on it — the first big raindrops hit. All too soon, it is a roar: raindrops tadpole down the mullioned windows, distorting the view outside into impressionist watercolours of grey, dark green and silver.
There’s no better time for a walk. In the forests below, the deer and bison will be sheltering under what cover they can find, standing stoically as they are soaked. Occasionally, they’ll shake themselves in a silver shower and then continue standing. The monkeys huddle in quiet groups, blinking expressively — for once there is nothing they can do but sit it out. The hill folk continue to trudge up and down the slopes, hunched under black umbrellas, covering their wares with bright blue tarp. You suddenly notice that narrow pathways are now busy little streams. The tinkling, gurgling baby stream by the roadside has suddenly matured and roars deeply as the rain thunders down. It’s going to be a raging torrent before long. Already, you spy silver streaks down the mountainsides, as new waterfalls take birth.
Under the canopy, the bruising machine-gunning of raindrops turns into a fine silver mist-shower as the trees take the brunt of the first impact. If there is a wind, the great trees may sway as if in time to music; if not, they remain standing, tall, dark and handsome as guardsmen. You do need to keep an ear out for the sound of creaking, or the gunshot-like crack, which signals a branch snapping and coming down. Those trees, precariously perched on the edges of cliffs, are especially in danger: if the soil beneath their roots turns to liquid mush, they’ll topple and crash.
Exhilarated beyond measure, you return home to hot pakodas, roasted bhuttas and steaming hot tea, sweetened with condensed milk. The rain has sluiced away your plains’ city grunge, leaving you feeling freshly minted. But, quickly, you must check yourself for passengers that may have hitched a lift, typically leeches which have a talent for humping into places they have no business to be. They have a disturbing manner of locomotion, humping their way along, as if mocking cripples, which puts you off completely. There are other downsides, too: if it rains for too long, you’ll discover your shoes and belts and bags growing furry with green mould. There’ll be a suffocating mustiness in enclosed places and dark wood-panelled rooms will make you brood.
The downpour can last an hour, three hours or three days. But, sooner or later, you realise that the drumming on the roof has ceased and been replaced by a musical plink-plonk as the forest drip-dries. Outside, it is silent, and then the stillness and quiet are broken by the long, sweet whistle of the blue whistling thrush, or streaked laughing thrush. The bird will probably be singing from some prominent perch, indicating to all who need to know that it is alive and well after the downpour. It is time to go out into the soaked garden again, to look for insects and spiders which have been turned into pieces of jewellery, as have been the flowers. Dragonflies spread out bejeweled wings to dry and the webs of spiders, of course, are like strings of pearls strung across the bushes. Bespangled with raindrops, the flowers look like multicoloured treasure-chests laid open for your delight. But, like all treasures ought to be, they are there to be admired by all who care to, not grabbed and hoarded in dark vaults and sealed chests. The sun emerges, and conjured out of thin air, a rainbow arches across the adjoining valley against a backdrop which is still gunmetal.
The last of the raindrops are still plinking down from the forest in the evening, when the frogs begin their serenade. The chorus begins suddenly, then stops, as the singers gauge their pitch before starting off again. There is going to be romantic mayhem in the soggy grass by moonlight all night. Then, through the pines, you spot them — tiny, emerald lights, weaving their way between the tree trunks: Fireflies! Winking steadily, they search for partners waiting in the foliage, winking back.
Later that night, you are awoken suddenly by a steady drumming roar coming from the roof. It’s raining again.
Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher.