Sunday, August 21, 2011

Against the Rains

The monsoon has definitely settled in, and the horizon has all but disappeared. Do not ask me the time; it means nothing and those numbers won't anchor the day. Summer in the flat lands is always uneasy, not because it doesn't fit well, but because once settled, it refuses to lift or shift. My colleagues and students, like me, freeze through the work week in air conditioned buildings with sealed windows and heavy doors that resist opening. Our window overlooks the bridge over the Intra-coastal Waterway and the cars crawling up and down seem unreal, somehow insubstantial and pointless through the veil of heavy rain, loud with many complaints and opinions. In fact, the rain outside the misted over window seems to be the most important personality in the room.

One of the oldest fears of the human psyche is that the sky should fall down on the earth, and there are as many versions of the World Tree as there are storytellers, and just as many devices to keep the opposites apart. Forget death, pain, becoming food; the greatest fear we all share seems to be that all shall blend indiscriminately into a primal soup,the virtuous with the ugly and common, that our belief in the absolute value of our worth, the validity of our individuality, the confidence in our undeniable cosmic relevance and ability to affect universal effects, all shall be erased, rendered irrelevant.

In the center of the year, the air begins to emanate a wet fragrance that is unlike any other smell, at the same time, feels like part of every earth-bound smell. The monsoon in des has a particularly inimitable flavor. When I miss the sights and sounds of my birth-land, thankfully, I now have the television that speaks to  me in familiar cadences I don't need to translate. However, nothing really fills in the emptiness when I miss the monsoon-fragrance. My house, like a lot of desi houses, smells of turmeric powder simmering with mustard seed cackled in vegetable oil and asafetida. So often, as I stand on the threshold of my kitchen and little backyard, I forget, and I wait for the koel's complaint when I smell the damp soil; of course, it never comes. My tongue yearns for the tang of raw mangoes marinated in salt water; but the mangoes, like the watermelon and carrots, taste different here.

Our species has evolved so that I don't really need to notice the seasons, except to nod a glance outside my window, or to ensure that my tires and wipers are adequate. The monsoon,  however, clouds over my horizon  underlined with many forgotten melodies, strains of taste, music, sounds, smells, and an indescribable anticipation as the rains arrive with the season of festivals, all culminating in Diwali.

I sit here, watching what looks like an apocalyptic, cosmic downpour that threatens to flood, swirl, and dissolve the individual thing-ness from everything beneath it, the very air trembling and booming, till the thunder seems to arise from the belly of things and the lightening illuminates nothing but the gray rain. I can see nothing outside my window, not even the palm trees, the roads, the stores I know to be there.

The Tree, then, does more than keep the opposites separate, more than keeping the earth and sky in their places; it shelters and hides creatures, offers a safe-house of sorts as the elements battle it out and the world re-arranges itself around it. For me, that Tree is crowded with remembered fragrances, tastes, rooted in the belief that the world I cannot see shall survive this rearrangement of elements, so the year may continue its festive march towards yet another battle against torrential erasure.