Thursday, June 01, 2006

the rains come

Summer in my corner of India has been severe but swift, and ended overnight with the coming of the monsoon. The first drop of rain I had seen in the two months since I arrived in Pune came last Friday, the afternoon of the Khandoba puja (see May 27 blog entry). Pune had been remarkably green, given the utter absence of rainfall, but still it is dry. So much so, in fact, that clothes can be hung two or three shirts on top of another, and still be bone-dry in a few hours, if there is not enough space to hang them one by one, as can happen when Anna and I both have our laundry hanging on our veranda at the same time.

When this first bout of rain fell, it was not a major downpour, but it was certainly wet, and the temperature plummeted instantly. I was inside working at my desk, from time to time glancing out the window that lies directly before my desk, when I heard a rustling behind me. One of the young boys from the village behind the institute was huddled just inside my doorway. The roof of the veranda provides shelter from the rain, so there seemed no practical need for him to enter my room. As I turned to look at him, he smiled and gestured that he was there hiding from his playmates. He respectfully took off his sandals, set them down inside the door and returned to the urgent business of waiting for his friends to find him. He could barely suppress his giggling. I have two doors to my room, one letting into the main stairwell and the other letting out onto the veranda, and when the shout of his friends revealed that they had located him, he took off with a dash through the other door, leaving his sandals behind and saying, “Sorry, madam, ok?” as he crossed my room. Two of his friends tore through my room in mad and noisy pursuit, nearly knocking over my fan as they went. “Sorry, madam!” they shouted, leaving a thick trail of mud across my floor.

When the monsoon does not come, or comes in small measure, there are drought, famine... and desparate suffering. When the monsoon comes in its fulness, the fields are long with grain, the trees heavy with fruit. Even shorter term, the coming of the monsoon brings relief from the dry and dusty heat, and signals the season of growth, and green, and vibrant life. In fact, the exuberance of the young boys playing hide-and-seek in my room seems the most suitable response. But still this was not the monsoon, just a little pre-monsoon shower. The real rains came three days later, and when they did they snuck up on us in the dark of night.

I was awakened at about 1:30 am by bursts of lightning, puncturing the darkness with longer repetitions than I recall seeing anywhere else. The repeated lightning bolts were followed by long and continual rumblings of thunder, as if a plane were right just overhead, but hovering and not passing. The winds slammed my windows shut. They rattled and opened again from time to time, and I did not until then realize that they could not be latched properly. After a while I went back to sleep, until one particularly energetic burst of thunder roused me again. I counted the seconds from flash to thunder, and determined it was some 30 miles away. Still, the electrical outlets were clustered just above my head, so I got up and unplugged everything. I disconnected even my fan, which had been rendered unnecessary by the drop in temperature to a downright chilly 79 degrees. Again to sleep, and so it went until somehow my sleep was reluctantly penetrated by the recognition that the sound of rain falling was coming from inside my room. As I got up to investigate, my feet brushed a large wet spot at the end of the mattress. Apparently I was sleeping under one of several major leaks in the ceiling. By now, it was 4 am and quite tired. I simply shifted my bed out of harm’s way, took everything up off the floor, put a bucket under where I thought the main drip was, and went back to sleep, careful to rest my feet to the side of the wet spot.

The next morning, I awake, survey the damage and note that there are large watermarks fanning across my ceiling. With the monsoon’s persistent dampness, a generous spread of mold cannot be long away. I leave this room next week, but it is jarring nonetheless to recognize that my cozy little home has become virtually uninhabitable overnight.

Once I have fulfilled my duty to describe my disaster in detail and show the damage to all my neighbors and passersby, I take myself out for a walk. Dodging puddles and breathing in deep the cool morning air, I suddenly realize that the world now smells different. Fresh and full of earthy aromas, unidentifiable yet oddly familiar to me. The air is filled with hundreds of winged creatures I had never seen before, their four wings pale and lacy and yellow. Birds in clusters seem to have decided to all pay our garden a visit at the same time. The sky hangs low now with moody but delicate clouds, casting an oddly gentle light on this world of fresh new life. The monsoon has arrived in Pune.

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