I listen to the rain patter on my window as I curl into the comforter. I was told I was coming to ‘Sunny California’ when I moved here, but I havent seen too much of the sun since then. I can listen to people moving about in the apartment upstairs – lots of thumps and lots of grating. Strangely the sounds are comforting and not annoying, the feel of people and noises is something I have learnt to value since I have come to the States.
I am amazed at the quietness in America. Cars dont make noises, beds dont creak, stoves dont splutter, babies dont cry. There are vast open spaces interspersed by huge freaking things they call freeways. And on those huge winding freeways people hurl around at neck breaking speeds, not one of them making any noises. I mean, how weird is that? In India, anybody who sits on my bike screams, and I swear I dont go beyond 40Kmph.
Anyway, back to the rain. I mean to write about the rain. Its a safe topic to write about..like love. After all Americans use it in every part of conversation – to start it, to prolong it, to end it. The weather I mean – not love, of course. Of course, love is a safe topic too. Everybody talks about it – some scorn it, some lap it, some love it. I digress. Yet again.
Yes back to what I was saying. Rain. My earliest memories of rain are as a one day old baby. Really, I swear. I was a rain baby. I was born in a small town in Kerala called Chertala on the day the Americans bombed Nagasaki, well, thirty four years after that. Well, that year, that day, there was no bomb, but they was a huge deluge. The heavens opened and there was rain like never before, the sound of it drowning my screams. My father hired an Ambassador car to bring me back to our ancestral house which was a good three hours away. He held me against his heart for the next three hours, not even shifting me to his lap, not wanting me to feel the waterclogged potholes on the road. I slept. I smiled. I listened. To the sound of rain against the glass, and my father’s heartbeat. That’s my dad’s most precious memory. Mine too. He of course also remembers the severe backache he had for the whole next week. I am strangely vague about that.
Then again, as I grew up in Devlali, a town known for its artillery center, its old Parsi bungalows, and cold harsh winters, the rains did not play such a huge role in my life. I mean, I have more memories of freezing water in taps, and navy blue sweaters with Vardhaman wool, and bicycle rides on foggy mornings, than of anything else. But maybe, there are some things one can never forget. Every year when I came back from our annual vacation to Kerala, I would be miserable. It was a three day journey, and I would spend every minute of it, alternating between fantasising about my marriage to my cousin, and misery at leaving what I thought was my inlaws house (Those days I thought inlaws were a pleasant species). The last leg of the journey was on the Bhusaval express from Kalyan to Devlali. If you ever want to experience the magical Indian railways, do not, and I repeat, do not get on this train. Its slower than a snail, its dirty, its got extremely uncomfortable wooden seats, and every single person on the train is a glutton. The train would start from Kalyan station and I would dread getting on it. I would sit amidst dhoti-clad farmers with gandhi caps and old women with green tattooed bindis, and hope to God that they would not spit out the betel nuts they were chewing with monotonous regularity. And then …and then it would be morning and I would look out of the window and forget everything. The Western Ghats would have the sexiest, drenched, really, really wet look, and I would gape at her awesome beauty. There would be miles and miles and miles of the richest green, and the rocks on the cliffs would look as scrubbed as the washing stone in my backyard. The trees were not dense, and they often stood lone and proud in the deep pastures, all clean and glistening and fresh. I would touch the drops on the bars on the windows, and then touch my nose. I dont know why, but I did. The train would groan and puff and rumble at my eccentrities, but I think it liked me, because it always stopped at the most beautiful places for no apparent reason. My father said it was because of passing trains and different signals. Blah! As if I would ever believe such a stupid explanation.
And then we would slowly roll into Devlali Cant; its a really tiny station with two platforms, and beyond the small station building, you can see the hedges, and beyond it, a tarred clean road and small dotted houses at the horizon. For years it was the same view, and for years I have loved it. It always meant coming home, even though it was a timeI had constant doubts on where home was.
And then of course the time I fell in love. Not with rain, of course. With J. I remember the first day, or rather the first time we acknowledged it. We walked out of the old house in Indira Nagar, and crossed CMH road in a daze. We didnt hold hands, it was too new for that. The old park was full of people, even though it was drizzling, and yet nobody seemed to notice how different we were. We felt so different, we were in a different world, how could anybody not notice? But nobody did. I chattered without knowing what I was saying, and he was silent. He said he was hungry, and I took him to Butterscotch. We wanted to sit on the steps but it was too wet with the rain; I dont know if there is anything called lover’s luck, but the old grouchy shop keeper actually dragged two plastic chairs for us, and placed them on the veranda. I dont remember what we ate, I dont even remember what we wore that day (and I have a pretty good memory about clothes), I dont remember what we talked. I just remember the cold wet breeze and the warmth inside me. J said bye after an hour and went away and I didnt see him for the next eight months. But it was enough..I think it was.
It would be weird if said I have always loved the rain. If you are in Bangalore and you have a bike and a one hour commute to work, you would be a big fat liar if you said you loved the rains. Which I probably I am. In addition to the obvious pleasure of getting drenched, you have to deal with crawling traffic, death traps in the disguise of potholes and salivating lechers who think you are impersonating Zeenat Aman. And yet its been difficult to wish away the rains. I have often stood near the office pantry, sipping the disgustingly sweet lemon tea, and watched people go home, and pretended that I was happy I didnt have to rush home. The rain has always been a reliable friend who visited you when you needed the company.
2007 November. I was in hospital for 25 days. They coudnt figure out what was wrong with me and my organs were supposedly shutting down slowly. I hadnt slept in days, I was running high fever, and I had promised God that I would marry the next guy my parents sent, as long as he got me out of the place. November in Kerala is like Chennai at any time of the year – meaning its hot and humid and the fan in the room offered no comfort. That night there was a thunderstorm, and the power went off. I could hardly breathe and I have never hated anyone more than the rain Gods, that night. That same night was the first and last time I saw my mother cry – she held my feverish body and cried along with me, cried as both of us prayed for divine intervention. All my life I have been Papa’s darling girl, and my mom has been the stern strong mom, guiding me through the rules that every child inherits from its parents. That night as thunder broke over us, and rain pounded on the windows, I dimly realised how vulnerable my mom was, and how much I needed to know it, how much both of us needed to know it.
Its almost six months since I have come to America and I am still getting used to the idea of living in a country with distinct seasons. I loved summer in Kentucky; Kentucky with its vast green horse farms dotted with black and white hedges and its ‘this is the smallest place in America and you must be kidding if you thought you could have fun here’ attitude. As the days grew shorter, and my longing for India became bigger, the land decided to change colors, or rather the trees did. That was kind of them because I was down in the dumps, and the colors suddenly lifted my spirits. I was told this is autumn in America. Every day as we drove from home to office, and we crossed the hills, I would watch the expanse of red and orange and maroon, and think of the song sequences in KANK and hum along with the music in the car. It was nice.
And then it all changed again – they told me I would have to stay longer in the US and and the seasons decided that they would have to make it harder for me. Winter descended with the promise of snow and lonely nights, and I curled up further into myself, away from everything that was warm and special. And rain? No, America doesnt have monsoons, as they taught us in geography class in school. But I discovered that the rain did work its magic in the land where it wasnt even acknowledged as a season. In fact it didnt work its magic, it worked a miracle. As we sat in our apartment on cold wet days and talked about home, and loss, and love, I watched as two friends found comfort with each other. It was in Kentucky that I saw my first double rainbow, and it was in Kentucky that I saw Smiles fall hopelessly in love. I was turning too old and cynical, but there is something about rainbows and mushy love which makes you feel young again. Jealous too, but thats another story.
And now I am in California – the land of desis and traffic which comes close to impersonating Indian traffic. Winter has come, and is still on, so has Christmas. New year too came on a stealthy note, and left before I could say hello. But the rains – the rains didnt let me down. Rain drops came and pattered cheerfully on my window sill on the very first day of the year. I didnt get up and open the drapes – you do that with strangers. I just smiled to acknowledge him, and went back to sleep.
The Suprabhatam on my laptop is over and now I can only hear the rain. The people upstairs have gone quiet too; I can hear Smiles in the other room but it seems to be from a far away place. Someone in pinging me on Gtalk, and I smile to acknowledge an old friend. The comforter is pulled up to my chest, and I tie up my hair. Smiles yells across that she will make eggs for breakfast. I grin as the friend sends me her baby’s picture over Gtalk. The rain..its still pattering….