Monday, April 20, 2015

Remembering monsoons in Bangalore of the 70s

It's been raining for the past many hours and still raining, the morning of April 20th 2015, in Toronto. Sipping tea in bed and looking out the window, I am remembering the monsoons during my childhood in Bangalore.

It would be pouring with rain as we returned home from school. I had neither an umbrella or a raincoat and would be running home with my school bag, getting wetter by the second and completely drenched in five minutes. There was no point waiting under the 'sajja' of someone's house until the rain stopped.   Even if  I waited under trees until the rains stopped, the trees would shake down  water when the winds blew. Also, the rain would pour for ages and I didn't want to wait.

At home, as a rainy day treat,  my grandmother would have  hot vadas ready  in addition to the usual coffee.

We would feel cold the moment we entered my home . It's a mystery why I didn't feel cold when getting soaked on the way.  Another puzzle...  How come I shivered with cold in Bangalore during the rains when it was about  18 degrees Celsius  but I don't feel that cold now in Toronto where it's is less than 10 degree Celsius?
We would get hailstorms in Bangalore but rarely and that was a miracle for us kids. We would run out to collect them and eat them. The sound of pelting hailstones on the asbestos roof was tremendous and  I loved it !

I now wish I/someone had had the idea  and the wherewithal to have recorded (audio and video) these things..the rains, the hailstorms, the trees swaying in the winds, the people protecting themselves by wearing plastic bags over their heads. At the time, every time, events seem so ordinary and not worth recording for posterity.  I always believe things last forever and invariably, things change and what happened in the past, never happen again. At least, not in the exact same way.

Bangalore has changed so much that when it rains today, it's different from my childhood. Or maybe, my memory is tricking me to thinking of the past as more romantic than it really was.

I also remember that there would be rain nearly every year at Deepavali . The winds more than the rain would put out the deepas lit and placed outside the house. I did not like the Deepavali rain much as it interfered with our bursting of crackers.

Nearly every time it rained, the electricity would go  off in Bangalore. It was a damn good excuse to postpone doing homework! I hated doing homework and though it would be fun to do it by candle light or  the hurricane lantern, it was more  fun to sit watching the shadows dancing on the walls and scaring my sister.

What was not fun was the bathroom and some other walls in my house giving us electric shocks after the rains. To this day, I always give a quick tap  before gripping any object. My dad refused to get the wiring fixed and always argued that we are 'imagining the electric shock'. All of us were furious but my dad did not budge. I think the leaking electricity was the worst thing about the rains in Bangalore for me. My dad did get a terrible, uneducated  electrical 'repairman to fix but the walls continued to shock us after each rain. (My dad, to this day, hires the worst people and every job he undertakes is a disaster. As the saying goes, 'cheap costs double' and that is always happening with my dad and his projects).In Toronto, where I live now, I experience 'static' in the 6-9 months of cold weather and this static which reminds me of electric shocks, bothers me! Because it feels like electric shock,  I continue to give a light tap to door handles before I grip them!

What else do I remember ? We had to run upstairs  to the roof and get the clothes hung out for drying when the rain started...if we remembered in time. As it would be cloudy and hardly any sun, it took days and days for clothes to dry in Bangalore during the monsoons. Even today, most people don't have driers and so drying clothes is still a bit of a pain during monsoons.

One scary problem during the rains in new extensions of Bangalore and in villages was that of snakes coming into the houses after the rains! Some were cobras too and after my first snake-in-the-house experience I was terrified to move around the house when it was dark. Remember, there was no electricity when it rained and it was really dark in the evenings  without candles( candles were expensive and burn up too fast) or kerosene lamps or deepas (the ones we lit in front of the Gods with groundnut oil).

I dreaded the winds during the rains as the winds invariably brought down the aging  leaves of the coconut trees on the electrical wires and this cut off  the electricity for the entire street!  I am sure everyone in my road was angry with my family! Yet, my dad refused to chop the fronds of the coconut trees because he said, it would reduce the coconut yield.

As a child, I didn't think much of the red soil washed away in the gutters by the pouring rain. I now realize how valuable the top soil washed away with each rain is for plants and trees. It saddens me to see  the earth in Indian cities  being ruined  by ignorance and greed and callousness of people. They chop trees in cities for buildings and nothing is done to save the earth from being washed away.

Unlike the  children in movies, I never stepped into a puddle on the road for fun! I didn't want my shoes or socks getting wet, especially the white canvas shoes!  The white polish we had was not good enough to  make my canvas shoes white after a soak in the muddy  puddle and the teachers were pretty punitive about non-white white canvas shoes!

I did love sitting by the window and looking out at the rain.  It was even better, if I had a new Enid Blyton!

I asked my husband (his childhood was in Gandhi Bazar of Bangalore) about his childhood rain experiences. He said he would stand in the narrow doorways of shops with people shoving each other, in order to get the slim degree of protection from the rain! He recalls the poor street dogs hiding under the granite slabs on the gutters, acting as a bridge between the pavement and the gate to the houses. He also recalls the well water coming almost to the top after heavy rains in his grandmother's house.
I remember the farmers hurriedly removing the motor pumps from the wells in fields when the water level rose about the pump-set level. The rains in the villages are a different and beautiful experience altogether. I loved it though I did hate going to my village.

I  remember the jam-packed  BTS buses with dripping people, clinging to the bus-doors. I  also remember  the curses of pedestrians, whose clothes were splashed by the muddy rain waters when a bus drove by.

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