Over the mouth of the bottle, the two of us, Sunil and I looked at each other and gleamed. All morning he had stood by the deep ditch that ran through the acreage around the house with a net first, and then a stealthily smuggled out hand spun towel or a ‘thorthmundu’ as it was referred to. And I stood at his side, the two of us hoping to catch that first lot of minnows that had rained from the skies. I was a precocious three and he, my brother, an adventurous seven!
The fish frolicked in the jar. We gave them names, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. We had even sorted out their diet. Boiled rice. Semolina grains. And Sunil, the die hard carnivore who didn’t want to deprive our pets of their meat had set aside finely chopped up earth worm….These were very special fish after all!
“Where do fish come from?” I had asked at lunch time the previous day.
“The sea, the rivers, the lake…” my mother had said, piling a small mound of sardines on my plate.
Outside the sun blazed. Sheets of heat that wrapped the house in a ssh… sort of silence. The wood of the house kept the heat out but at time it too had enough of the warmth. Then it belched vast quantities of tepid soup-like air…
“I know that,” I had said making alphabets of the fish. “I want to know where the fish came from first.”
An uncle had cocked an eyebrow. “Didn’t you know? Every year it rains fish? All these tiny little fish hidden in every rain drop that soon fill up the fields and rivers and the seas… and then they grow into the plump creatures you reduce to A B C,” he had muttered eyeing the alphabet fish on my plate.
In the evening, the skies had darkened. The grown ups had mumbled about the arrival of the monsoon. That was when we had decided, my brother and I, to test the veracity of our uncle’s theory.
In a couple of days time when the fish were floating belly up, fed to their death perhaps, we were past caring. There were more singular pleasures waiting outside. How long could one watch a fish go around in circles anyway? The monsoon had erupted around us and now the old house and us were wrapped in sheets of rain.
All that was drab and familiar about our grandparents’ home and the land around it became new and mysterious; a whole new landscape emerged as the rain moulded and shaped mountains and rivers of mounds and ditches. Strangely enough only our mother’s refrain of “Get inside, you’ll catch a cold hadn’t changed. First if it was the sun that was the culprit, now it was the rain. There was an addendum though. “Watch your step!”
We watched our step. In that brief hiatus between spells of needle sharp rain hurling itself down, we stepped out. Every puddle was worth a splash. And even the smallest of streams became a waterway in which we set asail paper boats with ants and lady bugs as hapless passengers. And so with our child minds we garnered our pleasure of the monsoon in that old wooden house in Shoranur.
In Avadi where I grew up and in Bangalore where I now live, the monsoon makes an appearance. But it doesn’t have to it that deep dank dampness or bear the wealth of subtexts that the monsoon ushers in Kerala.
That each year the monsoon will break on the day schools re-open in Kerala. That children who ought to be celebrating that first day of reprieve from the heat splashing in puddles will have to be content catching a rain drop at the tip of their eager noses. Of ploughing through the rain with unfurled umbrellas and sagging under the weight of books and trying to keep their minds on lessons while the soul yearns to leap, jump and scream at the sheer joy of being alive.
For that too is the mantra of the monsoon - staying alive.
As a child I would lie on the red oxide floors of my grandparents’ house in Shoranur and stare at the wooden ceiling. From each one of the hooks on the beams were strung pumpkins, ash gourds and cucumbers.
For a long time I had imagined the vegetables were strung to keep them safe from the rats. Until my grandmother said “We’ll use them when Karkitakam comes.”
Later there was the need to clean the house for karkitakam and even talk of getting someone to grind the ‘mayilanji’ leaves to adorn palms and feet with
‘What was this Karkitakam?’ An eight year old wondered. A beast or a holy guest? A festival or an evil creature who had to be greeted with gobs of green paste at fingertips and then chased away by pelting it with enormous cucumbers and melons.
Later in M.T. Vasudevan Nair’s story Karkitakam I saw the true specter of penury that the month is haunted by. It is a month to test one’s fortitude. It is a month of darkness and deprivation. For as the rain falls, day after day with no respite, there is a hollow not just in the pit of the stomach but also in the soul.
Is that why once the elders sought ayurvedic spas for ‘sukha cheelsa’? The texts may recommend this to be the ideal season to boost overall health but I would like to think it is also because a regime of soothing massages and tempering ‘kashayams’ alone would tame the savageness the incessant rain may spawn.
Clouds, grey and full, gather above my head. I am the lone swimmer in the pool. I do my mindless lengths up and down and as the rain comes cascading down, I think this is a first time. Be with the rain in its own element – water.
And I feel it then. The wonder of the moment. It doesn’t matter where or who I ma. All I know is this complete sense of belonging. Of being with one with all that is around me. The waters of the pool encasing me even as water fell all around and on me.
Once I had known such a moment. When in a world washed with innocence, my brother and I waited for the monsoons. For fish to rain in every drop.
Anita Nair is
the author of The Better Man, Ladies Coupe and Mistress.
Her books have
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