Cover

Romancing the rains

Aruni Kashyap | Updated on July 11, 2014 Published on July 11, 2014

Troubled waters. When it rains, it is fishing time for many Assamese, like this young boy in Morigaon district   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

Students use a pathway of benches to enter their flooded college in Guwahati   -  PTI

Fishing in the middle of the National Highway 31 in Kamrup   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

The journey home on a waterlogged street   -  PTI

The downpour that once made our summer vacations memorable is today the season of terror, of trapped water breaking down a city

It is June 2014. I am in Guwahati and am browsing through the old bookcase in my room. I pause when I see the familiar blue file. It is so bulky, it stands apart among the old notebooks and thinner files containing my report cards, letters, and greeting cards from the ’90s. As I browse through the file, I sit on the cold floor of my house and read the stories I wrote during high school. I am surprised by how much I wrote about rains in Guwahati, about rains in our ancestral village Teteliguri and about rains falling loudly on the gabled tin-roof houses that we call ‘Assam Type House’. I am in what I call our ‘Chandmari House’, in the woody All India Radio Campus, where I have spent most of my adolescence. I am sorting through my old books and files because my father has just told me that we would be leaving the house in which we have lived for almost two decades. I am not sure how I feel about that.

Before high school, I spent my childhood in another part of Guwahati, in Jalukbari, near the Gauhati University Campus. Today it is very much a part of Guwahati’s urban landscape, but back then it was a neglected area sprawled on both sides of the National Highway 31. We lived in a newly formed colony called Pragjyotishnogor. I didn’t know that the land for the colony was claimed from the Deepor Beel — a perennial freshwater lake, which was formerly a channel of the Brahmaputra river. I didn’t know that most of Jalukbari was created by seizing land from the Deepor Beel and built on the graveyards of millions of fishes, snakes, dauk birds, crocodiles and wild ducks. During the rainy season, the Deepor Beel would swell and reach our doorsteps. We never felt threatened by it. Rather, it made our summer breaks more memorable. Instead of completing our summer vacation projects, my brother and I would go to the nearby market, buy some fishing hooks, arrange for a long bamboo pole and fish all day. At night, we would listen to the rhythmic sound of rains dancing on our tin roofs.

Mostly we caught catfish. Some of them were poisonous. Once, one of them stung my father when he tried to hold it. Within minutes, his hand turned bluish and his face ruddy. We were not sure if we should take him to the hospital because he said that the pain will go away and that it had happened to him before. After all, he is the village-bred guy and we are the city-bred ones. But the pain stayed on for hours and he started to feel weak. Outside, it was raining hard. My mother went outside, found the leaves of dronpushpa — a weed — and fed him a few teaspoonfuls of its juice. She took out a tumbler, poured hot water into it, added a fistful of salt and asked him to immerse his hand in it as the dronpushpa juice took effect. When he felt better, my mother started ‘playing’ what we called her Old Cassette, “What is wrong with you guys? If you want to eat fish, go get it from the market. I will break the leg of anyone I see near the beel from tomorrow onwards.” That, of course, didn’t change. Our summer vacation meant rains, and rains meant a swollen Deepor Beel that reached our doorsteps. The fun began soon after. We were convinced that our mother would never understand the joy of fishing. But we were also a bit scared. What if a snake had bitten our father? That night, the sound of rains on our tin roof was loud, threatening and impatient. It made me feel cold.

Often, when our parents wanted some Independence and Domestic Peace, they sent us to our grandparents’ house in Teteliguri to live with our grandmother, strict uncles and aunts who always roamed around with creased foreheads, and first cousins who were our comrades-in-arms in doing everything that we were not supposed to do. It was Independence Day for us too, because no one in that L-shaped house made of bamboo and mud, with gabled tin roofs, had the time to police us. Occasionally, one of our angry aunts would find out that we did something offensive and teach us a lesson by locking us inside the house. But that house had many doors and many windows without railings. We escaped easily.

The happiest days were the ones when it rained. The village road was dusty. The dream-like rain would invade the village by pushing aside the thick veil of summer dust. As if the rains were determined to teach the naughty, unruly dust a good lesson for being fickle, for soiling our clothes, for sitting on the beautiful, bright-red hibiscus flowers and making them look dull. We would run to our houses then, along with the cows, dogs, and goats and watch the rain quickly form puddles, eddies on our courtyard. It would erode its chest mercilessly, leaving the well-mopped courtyard battered and bruised like a defeated soldier. After the rains, long, fat, dark earthworms crawled on the ground and we would collect them in yam leaves and coconut shells to use as fishing bait in the Tamulidobha river — a tributary of the Brahmaputra. When our aunts found out, they would pat their heads with cold water from the pots and lament, “Will someone please go get them before they are swept away by the river?”

There is no Deepor Beel in Chandmari, where we have lived now for almost two decades; and here I am, reading the stories I wrote more than a decade ago. There is so much about rain in these stories and essays. There is a date written on the first pages of these stories: the date of submission and the name of the magazine where I submitted it. I had stapled or pinned the rejection letters on the first page of each story. Looking at them, I long for my handwriting, which is not neat anymore, and think about days when I used to write in longhand, and make copies before sending off the submission.

Our ‘Chandmari House’ is an apartment. After moving here, the rains were never the same. I missed the sound of rains dancing on tin roofs. Sometimes, rain would fall on the tin sheet used to build our garage a little away from our house. I would pay all my attention to that sound, but rains were not the same anymore because here, though there were earthworms we couldn’t fish; though there were defeated courtyards and puddles and eddies, we couldn’t listen to the music and dance of rain. Here, I remember taking walks after the rains in summer. Now, years later, when I think about rains in Chandmari in our beautiful campus with a thick growth of trees, I think of the aftermath of rains. The sparkling red krishnachura flowers separated from the trees, the thick, yellow carpet of laburnum that forms on the road overnight after rains or the pink radhachuras that embrace the emerald green of the playground where everyone in the township had erected a large screen to watch the World Cup Cricket of 2011.

Having said that, the rainy season or Barisha is the name of the latest terrorist outfit in the city I grew up in. Last month, due to the rains, I remained stranded in the middle of the road inside a city bus. The traffic had come to a standstill due to waterlogging. After standing inside the bus for one hour, once the rains subsided I started walking towards home. After all, I know this city so well. It was late-night. About a kilometre from Chandmari, I had to stop. In the dim light, I saw people crossing the road in chest-deep water. It was dark. I waited for another 20 minutes and decided to risk walking through the waist-deep dirty water because it was getting so late. As I crossed the stretch, I thought I was in the middle of a river. I thought about the woman who was electrocuted while crossing the street in Guwahati a year ago and about the woman who was swept away by the current after she stepped into an opening on the footpath.

Last week, after a night of heavy rains, Guwahati was flooded and grabbed headlines. It was not the Brahmaputra invading the city, but only trapped water, creating havoc around. About a dozen people died. While I was watching the news in Delhi, I remembered driving past the vast new colonies that have mushroomed after seizing areas from what once used to be the Deepor Beel. But I also thought about other things — the hundreds and thousands of villages that have disappeared from Assam’s atlas due to soil erosion in the last 60 years, about the rotting body of the man who couldn’t be buried for several days because all land was under water in that upper Assam village. I wondered if I had the right to romanticise rains at all.

(The writer is the author of The House With a Thousand Stories and teaches at the Ashoka University)

Published on July 11, 2014
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor