City City Bang Bang, Columns

Monsoon schizophrenia

Every year we wait impatiently for the rains to begin, keep looking up expectantly at the sky, discuss when the monsoon will actually arrive with all and sundry and yet once the rain comes, it is only a matter of time before we start cursing it. This is particularly true for those who live in Delhi for it has the unique ability to turn a few drops of rain into a very splashy pond but this is turning out to be true in most cities as development dries up avenues for the rainwater to drain out.

The idea of rain connects with us at a very visceral level. The monsoon is the only season we really wait for. If in the West the sun and the summer are times of joy, in India we live for the rain. Rain brings us relief as the oppressive heat dissolves into an outpouring of wet joy. The dryness of summer that makes us retreat into our bodies magically transforms into the drenching oneness of rain as we get kneaded into nature. Rain makes us one with the universe; it is as if the heavens have declared their ownership of our bodies and have sent the rains to tattoo their claim on us.

Unlike the West where the rain is something that disrupts life ( into all our lives some rain must fall), in an agrarian country like ours, which has been so dependent on the monsoon, the rain represents life itself. The rain was fertility itself, clouds pregnant with portent dissolved into life bearing drops of sweet rain. Unlike most other natural phenomena that follow a degree of predictability, the rain shows a peculiar contrariness, an almost cussed temperamentalness that makes us thirst for it. A good monsoon even now is central to our sense of well being; it is the engine that drives our optimism about the immediate future.

But the rain represents something more than just the promise of fertility, something deeper than the functional necessity of having enough food on our tables. Rain is an act of cosmic release; the clouds open up and dance down on the earth in an act of uninhibited excess . The rain expends itself fully; every drop of promise, every ounce of potential is realized without holding back. For a society steeped in many sophisticated forms of restraint, the rain captured in metaphoric action, feelings that we could never quite express in real life. Hindi film songs burn with the longing that rain produces; from a Rimjhim gire sawan, sulag sulag jaiye man to a Kali ghata chhaye mora jiys ghabraye and many more, rain arouses the senses and makes them yearn for a sense of completeness. Getting wet in the rain is an act of passionate engagement with life, a mingling of the ‘red earth and pouring rain’ a haunting image created by Tamil poet, Sembulapeyaneerar. Hindi cinema of course uses this truth to the hilt, with the wet-sari-clinging-to-all-the-right-places act being a staple across the years. The rain becomes an invisible lover, whose absence creates the spectacle for the viewer who is able to insert himself in the blank space next to the writhing woman.

As we drift away from our agrarian roots and as our ability to control our immediate and personal climate increases, our relationship with the rain too has begun to change. We are still besotted with the idea of the rain, we still look yearningly at darkening clouds, but we are quickly sated with the reality of rain. It is too wet, too full of mud, red earth even, too uncomfortable and inconvenient to walk through and it ruins our shoes every single time. It blocks the roads, slows traffic to an even more parsimonious crawl and blows out power more often than not. The Indian city is in any case a barely functioning organism, and rain short-circuits its rickety wiring. We have mastery over the heat, al least those of us with access to air conditioning and the winter is tamed with heaters; only the monsoon inundates us with its indiscriminate inclusiveness. The rain is too wild, too uninhibited and shows absolutely no regard for occasion. In the ordered existence that we live in today, our love for the rain is beginning to dry out. We want to live as tourists in our own life; the rain forces us to participate in the reality of the world we live in. We still love the idea of rain; if only it wasn’t so wet.