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All peril, no play: notes from a rain-hater

Traffic jams, waterlogged streets and floating masala 'dosas'monsoon is bleak for those who detest the rains

More than an inconvenience, rain is a testimony to how dismally unprepared we are for dealing with it. Photo: Hindustan Times
More than an inconvenience, rain is a testimony to how dismally unprepared we are for dealing with it. Photo: Hindustan Times

One of author Douglas Adams’ many wonderfully weird characters is a man named Rob McKenna. A lorry driver, McKenna is plagued by the rains, and has a logbook to show for it. He insists that it has rained every day of his life, including vacations abroad, and he can’t get away from it. The rain seems to love him, and he couldn’t be sorrier about it.

You may never have encountered someone like McKenna, but meeting me might give you a good idea of how dismal the rain can make one feel.

What’s your favourite monsoon activity? Playing football in muddy playgrounds, savouring chai and pakodas, staring at the rhythmic strands of downpour from glass-panelled windows, or, perhaps, stepping out and channelling your inner Gene Kelly—or Raveena Tandon, depending on your preference—with a song and dance in the rain? My favourite monsoon activity is forgetting about it. I can’t remember a moment when I enjoyed the rain—though I do remember writing that I liked rain in my fortunately long-extinct Orkut account, a claim that led to some highly unwarranted male attention. Sorry gents, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t being truthful—teenagers can be confused.

Since then, I have become pretty firm in my general loathing for all things rainy. But monsoon haters must be a minority, considering the raised eyebrows and questions that greet me each time I make my stance clear. The disbelief is extreme enough to leave me doubtful, so I finally called my parents to check if I had forgotten any time in my life when I might have had a soft spot for the season. My mother sounded genuinely baffled for a moment, before she remembered. Apparently, I would sit on the veranda and make paper boats through hours of rainfall. “Maybe you did like it," she said.

Maybe I did. I grew up in Haflong, a hill station in Assam that thankfully remained unexplored by tourists for as long as I lived there. Hills and springs surrounded me and it was good weather all year round—sunny blue skies accompanied by a sharp cold breeze. Rain meant hailstorms, which I mistook for snow as a child, leaves tingling with raindrops and tiny me sending off paper boats on perilous odysseys across the water. Then came Kolkata, where I moved when I was 12—everyone wanted to escape the cataclysmic heat and humidity and longed for the rain. But the monsoon, when it arrived, would turn the city into a sludge-fest. Where was petrichor, that pleasant fragrance of the first rains? It had made way for waterlogged streets and endless traffic snarls.

But it was Mumbai that took my dislike for the rain and transformed it into abject terror. It started in my first year—I arrived in the city in 2006 just as the rains had started and found myself stranded in the suburbs on my second day there. Well-meaning relatives who urged me to come back home because a red alert had been issued across the city certainly didn’t help. My breaking point came a few weeks later. By then, I had moved to a hostel in Mumbai Central, a short train ride from my college on Pedder Road. The showers were particularly severe one afternoon and by the time I reached Mumbai Central station, the footbridges and streets were flooded. Other passengers made their way through the water and I followed their cue.

It took a mind-numbing 20 minutes to reach the hostel (a 5-minute walk from the station at best). Midway, the water had risen up to my chest and just as I was ruing my failed swimming lessons, a half-eaten masala dosa waded gently along past me. I had decided to ignore the garbage floating around me and along the sidewalks, but it was the dosa that really shattered me. I wanted to cry but that would have just added to the flood.

Little things like that can leave a lifelong scar. I lived in Mumbai for six years and my year-round priority was planning for the monsoon. I picked accommodation close to my workplace, with easy proximity to bus stops and railway stations, invested in gumboots, raincoats and huge umbrellas, and, starting June, I would be on high alert. Monsoon was coming, I would caution myself, but it didn’t help. I still found myself caught in the rain, year after year, landing up everywhere drenched head to toe. Sometimes it was a freak shower, at other times my well-planned rain gear could offer no protection against the city’s legendary downpour. Mumbai’s monsoons aren’t celestial tears—the rain gods were laughing and I was the petrified object of their amusement.

That reluctance to face the monsoon has followed me to every city I’ve lived in after I moved out of Mumbai in 2012. Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi, and the occasional trips back to Kolkata—the months of June and July still put me on edge. And as a legitimate descendant-in-spirit of McKenna, I have found myself in the middle of countless vacation downpours, be it in Mahabaleshwar or Phuket.

From where I stand, the rain never offers any pleasure. It isn’t an inconvenience exactly, more like a testimony to how dismally unprepared we are for a rainy day. It’s hard to enjoy a downpour when a part of you is wondering if you might have to drain water from your living room or wait until midnight in traffic-clogged streets to get back home.

Now things probably wouldn’t have been so bad if I was still living in a hill station, I’d like to think. I am suddenly thinking of paper boats and the innocence of bygone years. That is, till my mother, rather misdirected by my queries on rainfall during my childhood, decided to WhatsApp me a video of Haflong this year in the monsoon. There’s the inevitable landslide cutting off transport, plus half-a-dozen broken roofs. Not a single happy face in sight, and paper boats, what paper boats. Thanks ma, that was so very encouraging.

I am aware that monsoons are inevitable, and indispensable. Crops need rain, so do animals, birds, insects and people—even the cactus (I like to think of it as my botanical soulmate) likes a splash from time to time. But let me crouch in a corner and ignore the rain while it lasts. Who do you think the monsoon hobbies of reading and playing indoor games were really meant for?

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