Growing up in Bombay all my life, two seasons have come to play a significant role in my upbringing. One being sweat, the other being wet. Wet by rain of course. The sweating lasts about 7-8 months a year. And the monsoons, when they show up, are magnificent and much needed at first. But when floods happen, the enthusiasm for rains lasts as long as the “good acting” bits in any Sunny Leone movie. About 5 minutes.
That being said, I would rather wade through the flooded gutter waters of Bombay all day long but that’s probably the chronic homesickness talking. But I honestly much rather prefer getting wet in the rain rather than sweating a river. Granted, I am a hirsute individual. So I sweat as much as Emraan Hashmi kisses. I had the privilege, don’t ask my mom that, of being born smack bang in the middle of summer. With temperatures hovering around 38 degrees, the heat was comparable to the heat generated in an average individual’s lungi when he is watching a C-grade movie in the dark confines of a seedy movie theater. So given the general self-loathing I suffer from, the phenomenon of being born on such a hot day invariably ruined summer for me.
When I was growing up, school always was never around during those hot summer months. We were forced to spend our time at home, either watching TV shows that made Ektaa Kapoor (I lose track of the number of A’s and P’s in her name now) so famous, or having siestas in the middle of the day, that were otherwise cardinal sins. But come evenings, when the temperature got slightly more bearable, friends would gather and we would play cricket downstairs. But the unbridled joy that one got by just getting wet in those first rains cannot be worded. It’s that feeling of much needed relief from the unrelenting heat.
The rains always had this sense of romance in my mind. Maybe it was due to watching way too many Bollywood or Tamil movies, and ogle at the lovely ladies get drenched and nearly rendered transparent. But every time it rained, there was a certain list of songs that would be on replay most of the time. And those had a sense of romance about them. My first instinct, when it rains, is to run and jump around in it. It brings out the kid in me. But that’s probably because I have the mental capacity of Uday Chopra. Ever since I was in school, the advent of rain brought with it new raincoats, gum boots and puddles, whose depths were as unknown as Rakhi Sawant’s IQ levels.
As age started descending upon me and raising its ugly head, rather my ugly head, rains meant something a lot deeper. Pubescent hormones brought along with it the need to hold somebody’s hand and walk with her along the mean alleys of Matunga. I, once again, attribute those thoughts to movies. When it starts raining, you see the rush among people to get to a dry area where their heads would be pseudo-covered by a file or a book or a briefcase. Watching 4 people squeeze under a little umbrella, just brought a smile to my face. It just brought to fore what Bombay is all about. Come hell or high water, more often than not it was high water, we will survive. And while we are surviving, we will try to help as many people survive with us. That just embodies the essence of Bombay.
And walk the mean alleys of Matunga I did. And in my hand was the hand of the most beautiful person I have ever known. My grandmother. We used to walk to the market every evening, first to visit the temple and then to buy the day’s supply of vegetables and groceries. She shared the same immature wish of walking in the rain when it was at its most majestic. Since, school generally just started around that time, classes weren’t as hectic and homework was minimal. So trips to the market lasted longer during the monsoons.
Ambling around the streets, with puddles, stray rivulets of mucky water flowing along the footpaths, we always used to carry a used notebook from the school year left behind. Armed with pages that were itching to be torn, we squatted beside these rivulets and created a paper boat. Simple in design and creation, this provided an immense source of entertainment. Watching it sail away till it reached an open manhole and agonizingly seeing it being sucked inside the manhole, brought sadistic pleasure. It also brought about hopes of creating another boat, even though it was evident that the consequences would be identical. Another one capsizing in to a manhole.
Rains brought along with it delicacies that were meant to be had only during rains. It was available other times of the year too, but it felt like it was meant to be. Kind of like Abhishek Bacchan and Aiswarya Rai. Actually probably not. But what I mean is rains and a hot cup of tea, or rains and a hot corn on the cob fresh with salt and chilli powder on top, or better still rains and fried onion pakoras. Match made in heaven. And who better than my grandmother to indulge me in my gluttony. After getting ourselves soaked, we came back home, dried ourselves off with towels and turned on the radio which played Kishore Kumar’s songs. Add to that fresh tea made with ginger and elaichi, it just brings little tears to my eyes, when I think about it now.
But with all its glorious traits, torrential rains coupled with a high tide on the Arabian Sea can cause the best of people to scurry in to the confines and comforts of their homes. One such instance was in the year of 2005. 26th of July. About a 1000mm of rain in 2 hours annihilated the city no end. It hit Bombay so fast and so furiously, people did not have time to react. I was one such soul. Stuck at college, listening to a lecture that was boring to begin with, concerned friends and family were constantly texting asking me to get out of there. Multiple requests to our professor, but to no avail. No means of transportation to get back home, I was forced to walk an arduous 6 hours before I could reach the nearest relative who provided much needed shelter and a cup of hot tea. Walking 6 hours is still acceptable, but walking 6 hours in neck-deep muck with the fear of being sucked in to an open manhole was a lot more challenging than meets the eye. But the fact that I am writing this essay ensures that I survived that traumatic experience.
All said and done, rains will always have a special place in my heart. For some reason, Bombay is always associated with rains in my eyes. The sense of camaraderie that it brought in times of need. The huddling up of people under one umbrella. Utter disregard to caste, creed, religion or social status, everybody who walked in the rain, would get wet. It was how it was meant to be. People will come, people will go. Monsoon is as critical to Bombay as a beat is to a heart. And I will still jump and play and get drenched in the rain as when I was a child.
As Langston Hughes once said, “Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.”