As a child, I used to wonder why the writers’ of children’s books in English, went on and on about it being a “glorious sunny day,” often beginning stories with “the sun was shining brightly.” Here, in India, the sun was nearly always shining (a bit too) brightly, so what was so great about that? Only later did one realise that this obsession with sunshine arose because, in England, certainly, the weather was normally grey, drizzly and cold. Almost exactly the opposite of India.
Here, the summers are blazing, with everything in sight bleached white by the sun. There is dust, powdery or grainy, on every surface around us — and on us, too.
Then, as June arrives, you realise (especially in the northern and central parts of the country) that you’re turning into a squelchy, sweaty mess. This is the first sign that maybe change is in the air. By now, in the forests and jungles, the waterholes have shrunk to mud-pools, with lethargic animals shoving for space and a drink. The great rivers are now just cracked mosaics of baked earth.
Then, from the coasts comes the news. Vast battalions of clouds have been spotted by satellites, swirling in fury over the sea or just advancing in huge swathes. A stiff breeze precedes them. On the coasts, the waves race in and explode as they hit the rocks. Here you can watch the glowering clouds stretching across the horizon, advance menacingly. The interior regions may experience sudden stillness — as if everyone is holding their breath. The perspiration now pours down in rivulets, as the humidity goes through the roof. Not a leaf stirs in the forests and the animals just stand around the remnants of waterholes, as if turned into zombies. Broad daylight dims to twilight. Suddenly, the birds fall silent. You hear a faint roar in the distance getting louder. Often, all this is accompanied by what sounds like an artillery bombardment capable of shaking the very mountains. And then, come the heavy bullets of silver rain on the broad leaves — throwing shrapnels of cool spray all around.
The trees bow as if receiving a benediction, each leaf no doubt relieved to be washed of its cloak of dust. Under the trees, or out there in the open, the animals huddle quietly, listening to the pouring rain.
It’s even more mesmerising in the hills, where the clouds send wispy emissaries right into your rooms sometimes. Then the rain starts in an incessant pulsating roar. The pines and deodars just stand tall, dark and handsome, and drink it all in. Hours later, the first signs of concern arise: that happy gurgling stream at the bottom of the garden has now turned into a furious torrent.
In towns and cities the first rains are greeted more exuberantly. In Bombay, if you lived on top of say Cumballa Hill, you could hear the whole of central Bombay erupt as the first downpours started, with drums and dholaks and the raised high voices of excited children. Deep potholes appear, too, like magic scandals, wrecking suspension systems and backs.
When it stops, the huddled animals just shake silver showers off their bodies and get back to business. Birds break into songs to tell one another that they’ve survived the deluge and are still in charge of their territories. Every leaf gleams proudly, all of them freshly lacquered. A dragonfly sits quietly like a bejewelled brooch, waiting to dry off. The wet earth gives off rich aromas. If the sky clears up and the sun comes out, sharp as diamond light, you may see a vast rainbow arcing across the landscape.
Of course, there’s a price to be paid: disrupted routines, open manholes, killer potholes, along with coughs and colds, and swarms of mosquitoes. Cupboards smell of mould and shoes and belts are quickly furred over with algae. Ants and snakes invade homes looking for dry spots. In the mountains, landslides rip away roads and take entire villages down with them (but we are to blame for much of this.). Rivers go berserk, smashing bridges and spreading every which way: Kaziranga National Park goes under nearly every year. In the jungles, the great predators have it tough: with streams gushing everywhere, staking out a waterhole for an ambush doesn’t pay as well as it used to! And then, of course, the monsoon can overplay its hand: Days on end of dark, gloomy twilight, clothes that never dry, a sogginess everywhere, moss on the bathroom tiles… (one cure for this: just revel in the fragrant greenery outside!).
But sometimes, just sometimes you could actually catch yourself yearning for “a glorious, sunny day!”