‘Every year I need to romance the rain to keep alive who I am’

Anita Nair | Updated on: Jun 07, 2019
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Author and poet Anita Nair on listening to water

On most days, late in the evening, I go for a swim. My neighbourhood has learnt to accept it as a writerly idiosyncrasy. As I walk to the pool, I often meet a neighbour or two, and they inevitably say, with a peculiar smile: Going swimming, I see.


I smile back, trying not to look abashed about choosing such an odd time, day, weather to go swimming in, and say with as much elan as possible: Yes.

In their eyes, I see questions about my sanity. For nothing — thunderstorms, dipping temperatures, the darkness, the mosquitoes and the frogs — deters me. Once I am in the pool, everything ceases to matter. All I am aware of is the cycle of the slow and steady strokes with which I cover the length of the pool and back over and over again, and how that rhythm lets me enter a realm that goes back 530 million years ago when fish first appeared on the planet. Ask our fish ancestor, the ancient tadpole, what it thought of as it swam. Something tells me, the answer would be: Nothing

And so it is this nothingness I find in water. When the physical self is buoyed, the mind is free to wander and, thus, my stories are born. And it is in water that my stories shape. Sometimes I wonder what draws me to water, or this primeval connection that I feel with it.

In mid-November in 2011, I was in Thiruvananthapuram and had gone with a friend to dinner at Kovalam. We were standing on the terrace and watching the sea when I told my friend that I could feel something was happening in the seabed; I could feel rumblings on the ocean floor and that something was brewing down there. It was a strange sort of proclamation and, on that balmy night, unwarranted. R laughed and said I’d had one too many margaritas. The next morning, newspapers reported ocean bed seismic activity. My friend called to ask me if I was the female version of Paul the Octopus.

Another time, I was walking by the seashore near the Cholamandalam artist village in Chennai. I had never known a sea as ominous. Its pewter colour, a certain stillness in the air and the brooding nature of the twilight unsettled me. I warned S, who was with me, to not come to the beach for the next two weeks. He arched his eyebrow and said nothing. A week later, Cyclone Vardah hit Chennai.

There are more such instances but I have no delusions of being an oracle or a water reader, but I do understand water. For I listen when water tells me what it does.

The ancients say that water finds its own level. You cannot predict the course water will take. You cannot take water for granted. And even if you do, water knows how to nudge you out of your complacency, sweep you into its force field and do with you as it pleases. The survivors are usually the ones who go with the flow. Perhaps that is why Hinduism advocates that the ashes of the dead find their final resting place in water.

In literature, water is both a symbol and a contextual element. In Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s Chemmeen , the seashore is where Pareekutty and Karuthamma nurture their love for each other and the sea is a war field for Pazhani, Karuthamma’s husband, who battles slander, suspicion and self-worth even as he tries to net a shark. Ultimately the sea claims all three as its own, for the sea is a metaphor for the world which will not allow forbidden love to live and thrive.

In Perumal Murugan’s Seasons of the Palm , Shorty, a young dalit boy who is a farmhand in bondage to a powerful landlord, finds respite in a disused field well. It is in the well that Shorty puts an end to the fragile happiness he has to struggle to keep. It is in the well that Shorty claims his dignity back. And it is in the well that Shorty decides that there is no escape from the life he is condemned to.

And there is the Magdalena River in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera where Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza finally find the “waters that could be navigated forever”.

Every year, once the monsoon sets, I go to my village Mundakotukkurussi in Kerala. Every person seeks a crutch to restore their equilibrium. The crutch takes several forms: religion, godmen, running, board games, cruises, cannabis, and, in my case, it is the rain. Every year I need to romance the rain to keep alive who I am. For only water smoothens the broken edges and the fractured terrain. In its wetness, I heal and I revive so I can take on everything the world chooses to hurl at me.

My cottage in Kerala has leaked every year in the 13 years of its existence. But there is no music as beautiful as the sound of rain falling. The fat plop on a tile roof. The hiss of rain on leaves. The rustle of rain falling on dried leaves in the undergrowth. And only when I hear the music of the monsoon and feel the wetness of rain, can I renew my faith in the fluidity of existence.

Anita Nair is the author of several novels, the most recent being Eating Wasps

A poem I wrote during last year’s monsoon:


Published on June 08, 2019

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