I have many rain stories, just like how I have several, several snake and bird and animal stories. Most of these stories are of escapades in schools, the sorts that make the best anecdotes years later. Some are of waterfalls and walking in steep plantations, slipping and scrapping shins. Stories of leeches in the front yard, of warm sweaters and harsh winds and long drives. This Saturday afternoon, it is raining. As I sit with the door open, there is sugar in my black coffee, Angus and Julia Stone croon about a heart full of wine and I think of those rain stories told in the hills.
The first thing that springs to my mind when I think of the monsoon in the hills back home is the cold. Come May and we start preparing for the rains, the afternoons are usually rained up. We used to get the firewood chopped for the season, needed to heat water in a huge iron cauldron and buy coal to dry clothes under a big cane basket. Of course modern gadgets have robbed the house of the smells of fire and singed cloth collars now. Every time we watched a rain dance on the television, we would snigger, daring those little-clothed people to try it in Madikeri, where a single drop of the rain water can have you shivering violently. My grandmother says I love the cold so much because I was born in November in a year when the winter was especially harsh. The cold is what tops my monsoon memories.
My school was on the other side of town, a whole 5.5 kms away. To catch the school bus, I had to walk a bit till a crossroad junction. In the monsoon days that I remember, the rain would fall from the sides, starting to lash out just when I had to leave to catch the bus. The driver had to make a second trip to pick up more children, so we of the first trip had to walk up a small hill to get to class. My school was nearly a resort, set on the top of a hill with a gorgeous view of valleys and mountains all around (and they expected us to study?). The walk up was when we caught up with friends from other classes, staying dry, I remember, never being a priority. I hardly remember a monsoon day when the lot of us sat in class completely dry; keeping the books dry was a pain though. Raincoats and gum boots were for kids in class 1 and 2, not cool enough for us grownups in class 5 upwards.
In Kodagu, we used to get monsoon holidays, for about 15 days, sometime in July-August when the rains were at their heaviest. It was meant for children in villages who had to help their families with ploughing and planting in fields. Almost invariably, it would hardly rain during the holidays, just what the doctor prescribed for us! The District Commissioner used to have the power to declare a holiday to schools if it rained too much on a particular day. I remember we had this one DC called Jayanthi when I was in high school who was terribly generous in doling out a holiday if it rained ever so slightly more. Perhaps she was overwhelmed by how crazy the monsoon can be in Madikeri; it tends to have strange effects on people the first year they try to survive through it. So what was a normal day of rain for us would have her hastening to declare a holiday very often. The morning radio news bulletin or the local newspaper Shakthi was where we heard of the day off. We of course loved her.
Another story from the monsoon I laugh at now is the time I and my best friend of that time, A, missed the school bus and decided to walk home. We had between us one flimsy umbrella. If you have seen monsoon in the hills, you know how laughable that is. We didn’t see why we had to tell anybody we were going home, of course. Two happy girls, skipping along the road, we soon gave up trying to shelter under one flimsy umbrella and found it better to get soaked to the skin. Her house came before mine. By the time we stepped in and sat near a nice, warm heater to dry off, we had heard an earful from her parents. In those pre-mobile phone days, our respective parents had called the school and freaked out when we weren’t found there. Dad came to pick me up and predictably we sat through another round of The Talk. The next day at school, ha! Round three!
I grimace at how it would have been now. We would have sent texts to our mothers and there wouldn’t be any such shocks. What fun would remain in such things then?
Afternoons after school would be of warm milk and something sweet to eat. It would be of non-stop rain for days on end; I remember a time when it didn’t stop raining for nearly 15 days! Monsoon would be of no electricity, no telephones and evenings spent listening to the radio in the drawing room, where it was the warmest. It would be of two thick blankets and very thick mist that I loved walking into. It would be of hurried walks about town, umbrellas whizzing past each other in a sea of black. It would be about the bell like jingle of raindrops on old red brick tiles. It would be the long drives to see distant waterfalls and getting soaked to the skin, of slippery paths and slimy creatures cold against your skin.
Monsoon would be about the walk to the library, along a long winding route that kept getting steeper after every turn. And never failing to stop to stare at the red brick house with ivy growing on its walls. It would be about wanting to pretend to have a stomach ache to skip school, and later college. It would be of ice candy lollies bought at Rs 3 each, about the cool guys in college charming their way under the girls’ umbrellas, too cool to carry their own. Of wet days and misty mountains and the inspirations.
I seem to do nostalgia best in these pages. But given the stories there and the uninspiring, filthy roads and clogged drains here, you just cannot fault me this longing, can you?
It is 7.30 pm and still raining, not having stopped since evening. After the nostalgia trip above, I thought of doing something very typical of monsoon and decided that I would make onion pakodas. I am not much of an oily snack person usually and had never made pakodas before. I had some besan, the only reason I buy it is to wash my face with (does better wonders for the skin than the best of face washes). Using what a friend calls visual memory, I remembered the evenings when ma made them for me after school on such evenings. Well, I wouldn’t call my first attempt a resounding success, but it wasn’t a disaster at all. And teamed with some cardamom tea with a hint of cinnamon in it, the pakodas were just right!
*Patting myself on the back* yeah!