Essay: Reconciled With the Rain By Kalyani Raghunathan
In this personal essay, Kalyani Raghunathan explores her love-hate relationship with the rains.
Last year I told a friend that monsoon was my least favourite time of year. I have held this view for as long as I can remember, and so, like many of my long-held and staunchly defended views, it hadn’t been challenged for a while. In making my case I cited, like any good scientist, what I thought was overwhelming evidence in my favour: the oppressive stickiness, the streams of mud that send brown flecks up the backs of your legs as you pick your way through the streets, the stagnant knee-high pool of water that surrounds my home for days on end because the municipality drains are too small and too clogged to be effective. It has been embarrassing to have friends stay with me, I tell him, for us to spend a day shopping in Delhi’s high-end Khan Market only to stop the car at the gate of my apartment complex, roll our pants up and wade through the muck to get home.
When was this aversion to the monsoon born? My earliest memories of it are from school mornings when I must have been, oh, seven or eight, and everything about the rain was an irritant. My brother and I would trudge to the bus-stop in the semi-darkness, both of us sheltered under our individual umbrellas, my black suede school shoes absorbing water and causing my socks to squelch with every step. The school bus would be even later than usual – “PV8, always late” we would sing, but rainy day delays severely tested our patience – and we would struggle to time the closing of our umbrellas just so, to make it on with minimal damage to our carefully ironed uniforms and coiffed 90s hairdos. DTC bus windows never closed fully, so the spots next to the windows would be wet, and one lucky person would daintily perch on the edge of each two-seater while the other stood in the aisle. My most vivid memories of these hour-long journeys are of the pool of muddy brown water that would collect on the floor of the bus, rushing to the front each time the driver hit the brakes, sailing gaily back towards us when we started up again.
If I were to talk to my therapist about my feelings towards the rains, she would perhaps say that my aversion arises from my inherent need to control situations, to be prepared, to avoid surprises. Because everyone knows that monsoon rain is, almost by definition, unruly and unpredictable. The very unpredictability that makes it so appealing to some is hugely disconcerting to me. I can no longer plan for my comfort, my appearance, the amount of time it takes to get somewhere. In fact, the only thing I can comfortably rely on is that rain makes everything about living in the city uncomfortably unreliable.
The friend in question is from Kolkata, so perhaps unsurprisingly, he disagreed. Side note: I am yet to meet a Bengali who doesn’t wax eloquent about the monsoon. I paraphrase his argument, but it went something like this – the rain clears out Delhi’s air, much needed these days, it reinvigorates our dust-encrusted trees, and the green spaces that are our city’s saving grace are once again rendered lush and full of life…
“And there’s something so romantic about the rain, isn’t there?”
On his insistence we went on a couple of muggy August walks through those cherished green spaces – Lodi Gardens, in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi, our equivalent of Central Park, and Sunder Nursery, the newly renovated Mughal-cum-British-style garden that, at the time, we had largely to ourselves. I had the clouds pointed out to me, the vividness with which colours stood out in the descending dusk, the languor of the air reflected in the pace adopted by those out on their evening walks. “You don’t stride in the monsoon, you gently meander.” Maybe there was something to this season. Slowly, reluctantly, while surreptitiously wiping the sweat off my face and wishing I had had the foresight to wear something airier, I started to see his point of view.
Now of course, in quarantine, unpredictability has taken on an entirely new dimension. I find a strange comfort in observing the passing of seasons from the confines of my home; it is reassuring that though it might seem as though nothing is the same, the world is indeed proceeding without heed to the mess we find ourselves in. Home isolation has changed a lot for many of us, but for me, experiencing my first monsoon entirely from the comfort of my home, it has forever changed my equation with rain. Thunderstorms have woken me up in the middle of the night on multiple occasions now. Each time I reach for my phone and text this friend, who’s in another time-zone and receptive to my middle-of-the-night meanderings –
“A really big storm right now, I opened the windows and stood watching the rain for a while… and now I can’t go back to sleep.”
“That sounds charming.”
“You bring good luck, just woke up to a raging thunderstorm…it’s beautiful outside.”
“Aaah, this is great! I told you, rains are so romantic.”
I think I finally understand this. I finally appreciate the electricity of excitement at the first rumbles of thunder, the untimely darkness in the middle of a hot afternoon as brooding storm clouds gather, the deafening drum of droplets on my window awnings, my hot cup of morning coffee as I watch the cool drizzle from my roof, the proliferation of children flying kites in the early evenings… These are indeed romantic. For the first time in my life I have done away with having to navigate the city in its monsoon avatar – no reason to get drenched or muddied, no frustrating change of plans at the last minute to accommodate the inevitable road closures and traffic pile-ups – and the luxury of this perspective is maybe, just maybe, making up for all the years I’ve spent cursing the rain.
Kalyani Raghunathan is an economist in the development sector, with a Ph.D. from Cornell University. She lives in Delhi, the city where she grew up, and writes poetry and short essays in addition to her academic writing.