Saturday, 14 September 2013

Under my umbrella

Revellers await the rain at Worli sea-face, Bombay

A few weeks before the monsoon arrived, we aired out our umbrellas and ensured they needed no repairs. Families went out to buy raincoats and 'rainy shoes'; sometimes, gumboots too. Its arrival coincided with the beginning of a new year at school. We lined the insides of our school bags with plastic covers to prevent our meticulously-wrapped brown paper books from turning into soggy, brown pulp. We shoved crackling plastic bags with a set of ‘change clothes' into already overstuffed work-drawers. 

Gola at Juhu beach
On the day it arrived, we'd all ritualistically run out to dance and get soaked in the first rain. Once it set in, we incessantly looked out of windows and craved pakodas and chai. And we sighed, because on most days, we couldn't get any. Some days, we did get them and we’d be over the moon. Other days, 'makai’ or ‘bhutta’ were a source of great joy too. Sometimes, just for the thrill, we’d indulge in monsoon taboos like gola.

We swathed our feet with 'Band-aids' because our 'rainy shoes' would bite. It didn't matter that the Band-aids would get washed away while wading through calf-deep water. We'd assiduously stick on some more. We'd roll up our trousers, jeans or salwars; I quite think we invented capris. We'd hanker for 'rainy songs' on the radio. We'd think nothing of stepping out in cyclonic storms to get to work, to school, to meet somebody or buy something; the only option would have been to remain home-bound for almost four months. 

A few weeks later, irritation would set in - no more summer mangoes to eat, roads getting flooded, wearing semi-wet clothes most of the time, wading through filthy water, bags getting wet, falling ill. Nonetheless, at the end of each May, we'd sing "Ye re, ye re paoosaa, tula deto paisa, paise jhala khota, paoos aala motha", a Marathi song enticing the monsoon to arrive. The biggest perk of the monsoon obliging was getting sudden holidays - when your road was flooded or your office, school or college was. Though that wasn’t more than a couple of days in a month, it was still looked forward to. Nothing's sweeter than your boss calling to tell you not to come in today, just as you were donning your rainy shoes to step out to catch the 9:29 Churchgate fast.

That's monsoon in Bombay for you, where I grew up. We shared a love-hate relationship with it, as turbulent as the rain-bearing clouds. Each June, we transitioned from summer in a well-oiled drill, to make the monsoon a part of our lives for the next few months. After I moved out of Bombay, I began craving the rains. So, each year, I decided to travel during the monsoons; not to cities, but, to places where I could enjoy it without any of the cares associated with monsoons in Bombay. 

A few times, it didn't rain at all, like when I was at Ashtamudi, Kerala, one August, which is supposed to be peak monsoon. Hubby and I sat longingly by the backwaters, waiting for raindrops to pelt our cottage roof. Sometimes, dark clouds lined the sky and filled me with hope, but it wasn’t meant to be. Once, when the rain wasn’t yet expected, I had a wet trip to Wayanad, Kerala, in the pre-monsoons. Travelling with a bunch of friends, the unexpected showers were fun and brought with them lots of steaming hot chaaya, comfort food, laughter-filled mad scrambles to seek shelter and hiking around Wayanad’s slippery, hilly terrain. 

Monsoon clouds over Ashtamudi Lake
Meenmutty falls, Wayanad

Another year, I spent time only at rainforests, but in two different parts of the world - Valparai, Tamil Nadu, and Borneo. That rain is indeed a life-giver was reinforced by seeing the forests come alive with swathes of green. Fungi sprung in profusion. And, getting wet with us were tiny critters and towering trees. Yet another trip was spent loafing around Belgaum, Karnataka, with friends, hopping from one waterfall to another. And of course, gorging on monsoon favourites dished up by our friend’s mother and a nearby bakery. Last year, I battled leeches at Agumbe, Karnataka, in vain. Most visible were the five bites on my neck, referred to as my ‘pearl necklace’, thanks to the calamine lotion on each bite to reduce itchiness. The unrelenting rain also meant we didn’t bathe for all the three days we were there, due to a lack of hot water.

A Jewel Beetle in the monsoon, Valparai

Dipterocarps shrouded in the evening mist, on a rainy evening at Borneo

Picturesque hut on the 'viewpoint hilltop' at Belgaum

Raindrops bounce off a Vine snake at Agumbe

This year, I was blown away (pun intended) watching the southwest monsoon arrive into India's southern tip, as Radha and I joined our friend Arati, as she chased the monsoon for her story. I remember this trip for the giggle-fest it was and for uninhibitedly getting soaked each day as we chased the chaser of the monsoon. 

Fishermen haul in their catch under a 'first-monsoon' sky in South Kerala

I followed it up with a road-trip with hubby, through central Kerala. We spent time at a beach, by the backwaters and at a forest. We also timed our trip to watch the famous snake-boat race at Alleppey. 

Emerald-green paddy fields, mist and water cascades - a typical monsoon day in Kerala

With a visit to Bandipur this month, this is the most I’ve ever travelled in the monsoon. After four months of being a constant companion, my rain gear has just been packed away in the loft. Until next year, then!     

Goat-herd, Banyan and monsoon clouds - at Bandipur