For about two weeks or more, my mum, based in Mumbai, has been saying “looks like it’s going to rain.” Hmm, I would say, realising I was indifferent and belatedly that that indifference was a thing.
It marked a change in me. One more proof of having moved beyond Mumbai.
It is impossible to not be obsessed with the monsoon in Mumbai. The desperation for a reprieve from the summer heat, which has become more overbearing over the years belying everything we had been taught about equitable climate, meant that even children started looking at the skies hopefully towards the end of May. I remember a neighbour going into her balcony, looking out at the hint of black clouds way beyond the skyscrapers of Nariman Point in the distance and bringing in her laundry, saying with a certainty I found awe-inspiring, “It will rain today.” As I grew older, I would sniff the air too.
And then the smell of the first rain. Oh, the wonder of it, the satiety it brought before the exhilaration (that some of us with septic tonsils were never allowed to participate in and had to content ourselves with looking wistfully at other children frolicking downstairs). It is a scent to be bottled forever. Hermes tried but came nothing close to the freshness of it. (Though was accurate in how quickly the scent dissipates).
This joy in the rains lasted for at most a week. Then the sloshing through the muck, the failed infrastructure, the sodden everything got to you. It remained gorgeous if you were indoors with a book and a cup of chai or even just with a book as we were ad infinitum in school but not if your uniform was damp and you had to sit on and in the wetness all day and squilch your toes in the best awful inevitably shoebite-inducing rubber shoe you could find – having finally resolved the eternal dilemma of whether (weather?) open toe or closed was better, whether you should wear socks or not, having gotten over gum boots – and try not to imagine the black, unknown filth just sitting there between your toes till you got home and could wash it off. How many of Mumbai’s citizens are privileged enough to sit savouring chai and listening to pitter patter anyway? Even my mum has to drag herself tsk-tsking to the bazaar and negotiate the drippiness and unromance of puddles.
I don’t miss the monsoon anymore not just because I’m unable to see the romance in squelching. That is true. But also because rain is a year-round thing here. There is no season for it. You must have an umbrella in your bag, always.
We have typhoons and thunderstorm season here. And elevated walkways, underground rail and streets so clean you could walk barefoot on them, though only a Mumbai girl would say so. An Observatory that accurately predicts storms and a protocol in office on when to stay at home. We have winds so fierce they can overturn cars and unhinge neon signs – regulated by law in how they should be fixed – and break the glass fronts of skyscrapers. Our thrill is in staying home when the T8 warning is raised and then smirking as we head to the pub in the evening.
If anything comes close to the Mumbai monsoon anctipation for me now, it is Fall when it is pleasurably chill and you can don boots and deliciously smell winter in the air without having to shove your gloved hands into your pockets.
PS: I nudged myself into writing this post after this post by Haathi.
Edited to add: Like the star that I am, just went out for lunch when a T1 signal is on although fate tried to intervene by reminding me I had no money or book (which make buying and eating lunch when alone impossible). Instead, I went back, withdrew money, borrowed book and set out again. Then, fate tried again by making it start to rain. Did I listen? No. I went with the “persist” option. Result: I got wet. And not in a good sexual way.