The panels of the window crashed against each other to snap her out of sleep, and she frantically sat up to pull them shut before the storm broke through the glass. It was unusually dark outside, but you could see the white thunder behind the puff of clouds. Her face and skin were wet with the sprays that had been coming in with the wind, and she was surprised at herself for not waking up sooner. The skies were pouring with an unyielding gust. About time, she thought, looking down towards the crooked tree near her scooter in the parking which was now hardly visible through the sheets of water. It was eight pm…early in the morning.
People always said that the sound of rain made them fall asleep, made them feel at ease. But she felt it did the exact opposite to her. It was during these monotones that she would be the most heedful, and her mind would try to reach the farthest. All of a sudden a lump in her throat gave her thoughts away. During the rains, Baba would wrestle with the TV dish back at home only for her to watch Malgudi Days and dance to the song that once meant a wonderland to her. And soon she’d be joined by her friends and they’d fall in a train to whistle away into the rain. They’d jump in the mud, sing songs, dance in sync as if were it were a film set. Then come running in, to dig into a plate full of hot Ilish Bhaja. She could never tell why she always first thought about childhood when it rained, no matter where she was.
In her yonder years she’d always visit the grounds near Victoria Palace with her friends during the first showers. The white marble shining bright against grey skies, and the angel of victory announcing the dramatic arrival of the fabled monsoon, which she believed was the most majestic scene she’d ever get to see.
“Monsoons are beautiful here, don't you think? Turning the city to poetry, to little sonnets,” Sreenanda smiled, sipping onto the warmest cup of tea after the rain had stopped.
They were walking back to his apartment in Southern Avenue after a dutiful date with the castle. It was their gig day. All the singers, the drummers, their friends had gathered in the apartment for a final run-up.
She went on, “and no... the streets are not waterlogged…like not anymore. Well you see that was ninety seven, but not now. It smells like Tagore....when the first drop of rain touches the ground. The drenched Red Road, Fort William, Howrah bridge, Princep Ghat, College street, Coffee House, Jadavpur...and the list goes on. I have seen monsoons in Mumbai, I have seen it in Bangalore, but there is something impeccable, something that remains unsaid…unsung, while staring at the pouring grey sky from the veranda of an old house. Something...in the monsoons of this city…that no other place can provide"
Music, guitars strumming, poetry slams…it was during one such wonderful afternoons that they had met. Param and Sreenanda.
"Ray or Ghatak? Communist Manifesto? Tagore or Nazrul? Poems or Novels or short stories? Durga Puja?”, their first conversation was quite an interrogation.
“Ray, always,” Sreenanda started.
“Hands down. Ray it is. And well...no...not into communism much”, Param joined her with a tight smile forming on his face. She had these large curious eyes sitting on a very distinct pair of cheekbones, that seemed to have something of an unsatisfied thespian in them.
“Thats what we discuss in the canteen the whole day. Anyway, Tagore.”
“Poems. Metaphysical. Honest, and hits the bull's eye.”, she quickly followed up. He was fixing his guitar all the while. Of all the people in the room she had found him to be the one with the most friendly posture, well it was the least ‘stand-offish’. And it didn't hurt that he was good looking.
“Novels. Modernist, post colonial. More precise, well constructed.”
“Durga Puja...is first love.”
“Durga Puja...is Mary Jane.”, both of them had a wide smile pasted across their faces.
Yes, the rains in bring the joy and charm to the city. The chord was already struck. The lyrics were left to be turned to a song. They were drawn to a huge ruckus in the room. It was the Derby. A potent element of the Bengali Blood. When its between Mohunbagan and East Bengal you don't work, you don't eat, you watch the game and you bite your knuckles.
With a goal from Mohunbagan, Param saw the glee in Sreenanda's eyes. A goal from East Bengal, and her face turned as dark as the sky. Half-time in the game, and Mohunbagan was already on the verge of becoming the winner. The room went into wild celebration on the final whistle, it was the day of red and maroon. Param's side had lost, but he couldn’t feel sour. He was clearly focused on her face, how beautiful she looked amidst the murmur, the music and the dance. He went up to her, drew her aside from all the jumping and shouting, and asked her...
"You a Bangal?”
“No, Ghoti”, she replied; and changed the taste of his lips from jhal to mishti.
Already, after the completion of a full year in a different city, London could never give her the goosebumps. And all of a sudden the rains reminded her of Kolkata.
Photography By: Zubair Alam