Cloud talk

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on January 03, 2021

Amongst the gifts I got for Christmas last week is a Storm Cloud: A small glass object in the shape of a cloud, half-filled with clear liquid. There are white crystals growing inside. The glass is quite sturdy, with no visible seam. Along its underside is a solid glass peg. The peg fits snugly into a wooden base with a slot created just for it.

“When you receive the storm cloud, it will be in a state of disruption and may take a week or more to settle down into its new home,” says the neat little pamphlet that came with the Cloud. The pamphlet has been printed in a precise 6-point font that reminds me of a telephone directory. “If it is not a clear liquid when you remove it from its box, gently heat with a hair dryer and turn upside down occasionally.”

I haven’t thought about telephone directories in a very long while. Neither have I turned myself upside down, ever. I suffer occasional bouts of vertigo, so I wonder if it will be quite safe to stand on my head, just for the sake of a glass object the size of my palm. Then I realise they’re talking about the gadget, not the owner. “DO NOT HEAT the storm cloud until hot to the touch,” the pamphlet warns me. But within a couple of minutes of blasting the Cloud with hot air from my hair dryer, the surface IS hot to the touch. I stop at once.

The liquid inside remains stubbornly crystalline. “When the liquid is clear it is ready to go.” Go where, I wonder? It’s all very worrying! The whole point of the captive storm cloud, the pamphlet assures me, is to predict the weather. “Leave the storm cloud undisturbed,” says that bossy little scrap of paper. So I leave the thing on a pedestal in the middle of my room, tiptoeing around to avoid causing it the least annoyance.

I cannot understand by what magic this fascinating item will begin reporting on the weather. Three days before Christmas there was a winter storm that left the roads and the driveway covered in ice. I had never realised the perils of ice until I stepped out one morning five years ago. WHAM! My feet flew up in the air while the rest of me hit the ground. So the sight of the driveway covered in ice fills me with terror. The morning after the storm, the landlord arrives with a shovel and spends two hours clearing the ice.

When I call to thank him, he says he slipped and fell a couple of times. That was last week. This week, there’s no longer any snow or ice outside but inside I have a temperamental Cloud. This evening, five days after Christmas, finally! A new formation: the crystals have arranged themselves into a tiny fence, with miniature stars floating above. “Fair but cold,” whispers the Cloud to me. “And Happy New Year!”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on January 03, 2021
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