Rain always arrives in medias res. It is always middle, for the rains are without beginning or end. Of all the child’s questions about the sky and the earth, there is one that you never answer to your satisfaction: where does rain come from? You do not really know, in spite of high school geography and animated weather reports on television, because such knowledge is useless in the face of beauty. You only know that it rains. You will never know where all the rain water goes to. You are not concerned about drainage, you only care for the fall.
Rain is singular and plural, an essay structured in instalments. An essay about rain should therefore be like the rain, its raindrops separate and yet united, together and distant at one and the same time. And hence these drops of rain, these poems by women, related to each other just as every drop of rain is the distant relative of all other drops of rain that have fallen or will fall on the ever receiving earth.
Rain is liberation from meaning.
And so the fall of their shard-like narrative through a torn black umbrella.
So, where does the rain come from? Is this what a mother tells her child?
A few centuries ago, we first awoke from a deep sleep. We saw the world as a beautiful place, so giving, so loving.
It was some time before a few of us took a peek behind the curtain where dreams floated. What lay beyond was a nightmare.
Others among us had entered into a pact with the world and created this nightmare.
When the nightmare threatened to engulf us, we also entered into a contract with the world – we agreed not to look at the world, and those in cahoots with it complied to leave us alone.
Thus we had continued for centuries and thus I thought I would pass by.
But he jolted me out of my complacence – the naked man in the park.
They said he was mad. All he did the whole day was sit on the pavement and draw shapes and figures on the concrete.
And he laughed the whole day, all by himself.
I knew he was laughing at me and at all who had signed the contract. He had not.
I looked at him and marvelled; I looked at his drawings and shuddered.
The world was there, naked. And all its people – distorted, disproportionate, unsightly.
I had known it was like this all along but it had taken a madman to define it for me.
I was sane. So I had always looked the other way to avoid embarrassing the world.
The madman dared to look straight at it and all its naked, ugly people, to point at them and laugh. He did not turn his back.
So they called him mad and connived to isolate him so others would not be influenced by him.
But the madman did not care. He only sat and drew.
He knew he need not go in search of kindred souls – they have a way of coming together, these souls.
And when they come together? Do they all sit down and draw?
Would you find me tomorrow on the pavement with the madman? I don’t think so.
I don’t have the courage yet. I am sane yet.
Where then am I different from the rest of the world? Or am I at all? I like to believe I am not in the cabal.
The rains are though. Last night, they came and washed it all away – the madman’s etchings on the pavement.
For days now, I had tried to sidestep them as I walked past them on my way to the institute, only to see them being trampled under desperate feet trying to keep up the façade: nobody likes to be caught in the nude.
The madman only sat down to draw again. The world continued to conspire.
And last night, the rains also conspired with the world. The rain joined hands with the people. The rains washed it all away.
The rains came from behind the curtain.
Uddipana Goswami, “The Rains Come From Behind the Curtain”
‘Raindrops on roses’ … and you never ask why raindrops should be one of her favourite things?
Perhaps because, as Anindita Sengupta tells us, even crows are beautiful when it rains in her city:
They say blood flows like water through the lanes in my city.
Now the blue of my veins looks like the veins of my city.
Love, look beyond the glare of obvious complaints;
Even crows are beautiful when it rains in my city.
Morning mist squats froglike on the Arabian sea.
But remember the rush of night trains in my city.
The crow and the frog give the rain the appearance of an animal, ugly animals, animals not known for their beauty. But the rain, like holy water, turns everything ‘beautiful’, frogs not to princes, but to the mightier ‘Arabian Sea’.
The frog and the broom. One will cry hoarse declaring the arrival of the rain, nature’s loudspeakers. The second will be made to stand upright looking at the sky in the land of drought – Allah megh de , paani de …
After last night’s storm and rain
lying drunk in a paddy field
is a cricket frog
Sitting forlorn in solitude in a bamboo grove
is his mate
Bina Biswas, ”Untitled”
What colour is the rain?
How do the colour-blind see the rain?
For the sun, there’s sunscreen. For the cold, there’s cold cream.
What, then, for the rains?
Does the sky cry when the rain leaves it for the earth?
Imagine yourself on a raindrop falling earthwards. What a remarkable parachute a raindrop is.
And a helicopter too. Every rain drop, if it were red, would be an accident, a crash landing. And the earth would be red, dead red.
I tore at his helicopter till it bled,
till it rained in my room
and I could sit
spreading my limbs
to cover the red.
Monica Mody, “Satan”
Only humans find the rains beautiful.
What good are the iterant raindrops that fall and then slide off cows’ backs?
My twenty three month old nephew, who loves water, dislikes the rain on his face or head, but not the raindrops in his palms. The sky is new to him, the rain its aberrant child. Soon he will make his first step towards adulthood – he will learn that even the sky, that constant over his head, is unreliable, that it leaks. Then he would discover the joy of waiting, the longing for the season of rains.
It is my nephew’s second summer. It is also his second monsoon. He still does not understand the difference between raindrops and sweat drops. For him both are perhaps a denominator of heat – for one, he is substratum, a colony of heat changing its state; and the other exists independent of him.
Can an ant differentiate between rain and a man’s urine?
On my way to work, every monsoon, I spot a man on the bank of a river, a black umbrella over his head, his face looking up at the sky and then at the river, from where the rain comes and where it falls. He has not tired of counting raindrops.
My driver tells me that one must count the raindrops falling on one’s head as gratefully as one’s ‘bank deposits’. His maternal grandfather died in the Bengal Famine of 1943.
Along roads and tree-lined streets is evidence of the prosperous career of rain – the undergrowth of moss and ferns on the ground. It is a reminder of the covert relationship that rain has with the underworld and the subterranean, the marginalised, the neglected of the eye.
Water, especially when it comes from the sky, likes to collect in holes, the earth’s cavities. My mother says that when I was a little girl, I used to call them ‘rain-pockets’ and put my hands inside them to search for small change.
Small change? Now there’s only inflation.
When the sun is shining in the sky and it’s raining, my mother says that the jackal gets married. Though we’ve never been invited to the wedding, I have always wondered how that folk saying came to be. Perhaps it is an expression of the jackal’s double-faced ways, of being the sun, the source of heat, and the rain, its cooling agent, at the same time.
Rain. June-born. Gemini.
Watermelons, swollen with red rain inside them, are summer’s only offerings of penitence. They are sweet, cooling summer’s blisters. And then the rains come, a conspiracy under dark skies and waterlogged fields, and all sweetness is lost. This is a story for those who think of the rain as sweet. Farmers and fruit sellers know that rain is an enemy, perhaps a rival, to the watermelon’s sweetness. After the first showers, the red remains, the sweetness has dissolved away, like blood from an anaemic body.
But mangoes? What happens to their sweetness after the rain?
I will come bearing mangoes
… Sharpen your knife
and hold out your tongue,
for life is sweetest in small pieces
and I could feed it to you in the
white wicker-plaited shadows
of your sun-flooded veranda
while we drink to beauty
and wait for the fire flowers
of the year’s first rain.
Sharanya Manivannan, “I will come bearing mangoes”
Rain patronises water hyacinths like no other green life, these settlements on water that everyone besides poets and painters call useless. Among all people I know, there is no greater artist of the rain than the gardener, Janice Pariat’s Ranjit Mali.
the monsoon a shift
of wind away.
ranjit mali says he can
smell it in the earth,
damp, rich and sweet,
sense it by pekoe birds
that fall suddenly quiet.
life here is wholesome
… soon, tainted blush
and growing heaviness,
rain drums the earth
to time the season.
bats in their blindness
know when fruit is ripe,
ready to be torn from
papery shell. what’s left
is mine to peel and cradle.
life here drips quietly
from branch to soil.
Janice Pariat, “margherita june”
Before I travelled out of India, I knew only rain. In Europe, when I encountered those fat self-contained drops as rain, I could think of them as only preface to something stronger, something more forceful and beautiful that would follow. That did not happen. So now when I teach literature about the rain in class, I think of two species of rain – Indian rain versus English rain, the first Kalidasa’s rain in Meghdootam, the second H. W. Longfellow’s rain in “How Beautiful is the Rain”.
For rain is beyond translation.
Let us not remember the first smell of rain:
It will only make us nostalgic for childhood.
Tishani Doshi, “Immigrant’s Song”
How does rain travel? Without tickets, for free. On a dry road, wet tyre tracks will tell you about rain in the land where the automobile comes from – you look at the car number plate and imagine drying clothes on the terrace in a wet town, and you think of a woman running up the stairs, her hair loosening from a homely bun, emerging out of a narrow doorway into the open. Your world turns wet and you don’t want to reach out for your umbrella.
The monsoon will travel faster than rumour. This is an aphorism that cell phone companies will learn some day.
Does the rain carry amour in its liquid veins, for why else would our cinema have to invent the rain song?
If rain signals
the lover’s return
then I am lost
in the desert
like the brain fever bird
… there’s no sign
or what I know
to be as you
only clouds adrift
in a vanquished sky
of throbbing arms
Tishani Doshi, “Ode to Drowning”
There is no emoticon for rain. And so I use the exclamation mark. For that is how rain falls inside my computer. Outside it, raindrops are like lost children, stones thrown in the air, magic seeds for dispersal. For the rain is always an immigrant.
There are many scores of you, I know, strewn pell-mell
Across the sphere, vagrant drops of an unseasonable
Rainstorm, or seeds fallen on foreign lands. So I dwell
Since defunct then divided, like in some strange fable—
Or rather flit, for want of laws, pennants, port or fell
—In your minds, in nostalgia’s arms …
Karthika Nair, “Terra Incognita”
When the rain falls on tin roofs and the sharp sheets bang against your wooden window, you mishear things. And “lovely” becomes “lonely”.
‘Hot’ and ‘cold’, words often used to express smartness quotients, are borrowed from the seasons. Why hasn’t the rain supplied any word to the teenage lexicon?
There is a quaint relationship between the words ‘rain’ and ‘fall’. Not only does the rain fall, the rain fall causes people to fall too. Why, have you never taken a fall, like clothes in the rainy wind, running up to the terrace like an ambulance on emergency duty, to save your drying clothes?
A woman sprinted past
in a towel-turbaned head, plucked clothes
off the line with the urgency of saving someone
from drowning. I talked above the rain
as a paper boat sailed around the columns
of my ankles and a fallen leaf trembled
to dark ochre. You skimmed the hair
off your face and your eyes were dry ice.
Anindita Sengupta, “A Sense of Rain”
You have a hand me down guitar that’s now an aquarium of memories, whose strings were once taut with music, to which you tunelessly sang ‘I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering’ (The Beatles). You look at the sky and a bullet of rain falls into your eyes, and you can never see the world the same way again.
But if rain should dare
pierce eyes or attention, plunge
both in the subaqueous …
Karthika Nair, “If on a Summer Night in Paris …”
Even the blind can see the rain. How else do leaves know that the rain is here?
The best rain is always outside your window.
The draft is strong, so if the tufty grainy rain
glazed nothingness on the quiet eaves, scratch-
ing bird skin stopping to catch
a moment dewed overnight.
Nabina Das, “Weatherwisely at the Window”
Rain is an emotion. Rain is emotions. Bi-polar. Sometimes it comes not from clouds in the sky but from inside human skin.
… with flashes of Chanel. Stinging into our skin
her nails of charity nights.
Her anxiety showers commotion on the city – more
than ever what the rains bring on Gaza’s blights.
Nabina Das, ‘New York Woman: a Ballad’
It rains in Gaza? Water rain? Or arms and missiles? Armaments?
The word ‘train’ has ‘rain’ hidden inside it already. And that is only proper. For the rains are an Express and a Local, without hierarchy. There is nothing stickier than rain drops on train window panes. And nothing more acrobatic either.
It is night now. Raining. The droplets stick sound and light on my window. The flying
night local train, the howl of the river wind, someone yelling and laughing –
everything jingle-jangles with the flickering streets, the dull glow of city spires,
I’m among presences.
And yet a lot is not.
Nabina Das, ‘River Lines’
Trains and buses, yes, but the car in the rain? Have you sat at the steering and wondered whether the rain is chauffeured too?
I squint at water,
slide grief and hope back and forth
across a smoky windshield.
There are no collisions,
only this faint drone against rain:
dislodge us from where we lie
between pages, a misplaced
Turn. Return a thread
of open road. Glass-shimmer.
a hand that still covets skin.
Anindita Sengupta, “Turn”
Do you drink rain water?
What do you eat in the rain? Pakora, the world coated with batter to be deep-fried – the heat of anger; khichuri, the world brought together – reconciliation. And of course the hilsha, the king of Bengal. Is it without reason that a variety of rain, the light affectionate drizzle, is called ‘ilshey goori’, named after the hilsha?
The earth cannot refuse rain. It is parent and offspring, forever receptacle. What does rain leave as leftover? If rain is an animal, does it eat, urinate or defecate?
Dawn: black rain, wet crows
raining and crowing.
My neighbours don’t eat eggs
so whose this garbage
bag full of shells?
Noon: that damned dog, imprisoned
and throat burnt sore with raw hope.
From last June, I found this line:
I think a bandicoot shits on our doorstep every night.
Anjum Hassan, “Kind of Monsoon”
The rain is a Van Gogh painting, an assembly of broken lines.
It’s a miracle that rain still falls. And that it doesn’t get hurt. Or need bandages.
There are as many ways
as there are ways for rain
Tishani Doshi, “An Ode to Drowning”
All things that fall cast shadows. Even well-built reputations. Why doesn’t the rain cast shadows then?
In Nabina Das’s poem, “Water on Ink”, the opposite happens: ‘shadows quarter the rain’:
Shadows quarter the rain
You’re wrapped in yourself
The street flows on. Slivers.
Faces squiggle in ivory ink
Bush-birds stare at our eyes
The slants hurt similes. Slow.
All sketches on water by ink
All words on lines by language
All these un-fairy faces are I. Me.
Nabina Das, “Water on Ink, Kilokri, Delhi”
In this poem, rain is a verb. Rain is a motion picture director calling for ‘Action’ for as soon as the rain march begins, the world begins moving – women rush to the terrace to protect their drying clothes, children close windows, men check their bags for umbrellas. In Das’s poem, it takes the rain to trigger the process: the street flows, faces squiggle, bush-birds stare, slants hurt. That is what it is then, this rain: a corporation of verbs as its by-products. And gradually, as paint dries on a canvas, its death, its waterlessness, giving life to a painting, so with rain. Rain on walls, rain on the earth, rain on paper, rain on cloth – all dry unequally, to indulge our anthropomorphism, so that we can discover faces on walls and animals on half wet saris. That is also the language of rain – its face like ours and yet not quite. As Das says, ‘All these un-fairy faces are I. Me.’.
‘I hear thunder, oh do you? Pitter patter raindrops …’ The children sing in the kindergarten school nearby. Children songs gather viscosity as they travel to your ears. You pity the children for they cannot really hear the rain though they can hear thunder. You are convinced that no one hears the rain better than you do. You are the rain’s suspicious wife.
Listen, it’s time to talk of rain:
sedge, rushes, glitter-stalks and soil
so water-stirred—are they in pain?
Listen, it’s time to talk of rain.
The silver drops have gone insane
and under earth, insects uncoil
to listen. It’s time to talk of rain.
Sedge. Rushes. Glitter-stalks. And soil.
Anindita Sengupta, “Listen”
You are no lover if the rain hasn’t triggered you to reach out for your lover’s wet hair. You are no lover if your lovemaking hasn’t brought the rain to a shy stop.
for the next humid or rain-stopped afternoon
when your fingers will find their way
into the right places.
Anindita Sengupta, “Desire”
Many years ago, when the world had more lovers than it does now, lovers at street corners waiting for you to emerge out of buildings that hid you from them, lovers indifferent to the rain that fell on them, lovers whose ambition was to be the rain, lovers who taunted with words that turned the rain into a violent transgression, their calls of ‘Oye Mandakini’ (after the actress in Raj Kapoor’s Ram Teri Ganga Maili) when you walked through the rain after a sudden downpour, your clothes sticking to skin like a stale curse, those rain-soaked sounds growing darker with the last words that beat against your eardrum as you hurried into safety and shelter – ‘You let the rain rape your body, and not me?’
Flaming green of a morning that awaits rain
And my lover speaks of rape through silences,
Swallowed words and the shadowed tones
Of voice. Quivering, I fill in his blanks.
Meena Kandasamy, “My lover speaks of rape”
Does everything rot in an overdose of rain? Slippers, yes. Clothes too. Even love and lovers?
it rains outside and termites have grown
winds to search for frail lovers.
Soon they will
lose them and
I will see whispered wings
Nitoo Das, “Letter from Ramabai to her Husband”
There is rain and there is water logging. Rain collects in the empty pockets of neglected roads, there it waits. When your feet sink into them and you curse, or when your car takes a hiccup in its in-and-out-of-pothole gesture, you become absent minded. Where should all the rain collect? And why is rain beautiful only when it is levitating, only until it touches the ground?
Wedged together in that cycle-rickshaw
like sections of an orange, my shoulder
jabbed your arm. We squelched
across stone, polythene, water.
I wanted this to last, this ride
over potholes in the rain,
with us so fully aware, so embodied.
Anindita Sengupta, “Shoulders”
An extravagance of love turns your life into a Noah’s Ark – just two in the blue. Have you ever stayed in bed wondering that you might wake up to find your slippers floating around and the water threatening to climb up to your pillow, where your head was once safest? There’s so much rain outside that there’s no space to hold it anymore, and so it begins raining inside your head. Like the blood that moves from the television screen to the red in your eyes. This rain riot, will it never stop?
They close all windows and draw the shades,
climb into bed with shoes on, cover
their heads. Outside, the relentless drip—
it can make people mad. In the fogblued
distance, men sit at bus stops, count
puddles, train eyes on watches, mark time.
She thinks if she plays Gershwin, in time
the rhapsody will billow and shade
her ears from what creeps and squeaks, cover
up the rustle of restive rats. She counts
the days of rain so far.
Anindita Sengupta, “The City of Water”
Some day there will be a Still Life of the rains. And then there will be no difference between rain drops and bird droppings. Karthika Nair: ‘The attempt to capture the kinetic in words is somewhat like freezing a raindrop in mid-air. Before it changes shape. Before it merges with the earth. Often futile. And at best partial, the change of location from memory’s degradable case to a more durable, if just as subjective, one’.
Some days, the rain is a bird in the sky, always in flight. Some days, the bird also becomes the rain.
These brown wheels of rough hunger
will whirl to a stop soon, glide to rest
And later, much later,
they will bathe in the rain.
Anindita Sengupta, “Kites”
Among all the rain weapons I know, the umbrella is the most political. Gumboots might trample on rain corpses and protect us from muddy feet, but it is the umbrella that is shield and armour. Even when unopened, it is potent, like a loaded gun.
Someone in the morning whistles a tuneless song
He’s shitting in the thistles, in time to a tuneless song.
The old woman at the traffic light, she sells me an umbrella
Her bag’s got five rolled tight, they rattle a tuneless song.
Sridala Swami, “Dancing to Political Songs”
No one dances to political songs, says Sridala. But I want to know why everyone dances to the rain. Do you know anyone who dances because it’s summer or winter? Why then the rain?
This is an ode
to be sung
in the latest hour of night
when the rain clouds
over shingled roofs
and blue-skinned gods
with magical flutes
seduce the virgins to dance
For there is no love
of sandalwood trees
Tishani Doshi, “Ode to Drowning”
Before the hospitality industry thought up the ‘monsoon festival’ as a package, there was the Rath Yatra in Puri, Orissa, the original monsoon festival. And the handless gods danced in the rain? Rain Dance.
If you’ve ever been caught in a rain storm you’d know that excess inevitably leads to tragedy – whether it’s love, whether it’s the rain.
I should be in Sri Lanka now
but I am not, caught instead
inside the throat of a rainstorm
in a large village to the north.
… Daylight in that
country shaped like a tear, origin of
love, resting place of serendipity.
… The rain ceases; the fear of water
sets in. The coast puckers against it.
… See how much, how much we love you.
Sharanya Manivannan, “August, The Year After”
Rain, like love, must always be surplus?
When it rains ‘out of season’, like the postman arriving at midnight, you wonder whether there’s enough adhesive at home: things must remain together in this moment of untimeliness.
And when rain comes in winter, that proverbial exception to the rule, the window becomes your neighbour, a body and mind all its own, disobedient and rebellious. Things can enter but not leave, like the cold.
Each year, in the winter, the bathroom door
swells with rain, refuses to close, creaks in
tandem with a rogue wind impeded
not even by walls and windowpanes.
Sharanya Manivannan, “Winter in The City Without Exits”
If the rain washes everything, who washes the rain?
Everyone might get wet in the rain, but not everyone can hear it fall. ‘Tapur tupur’, ‘pitter patter’, ‘teep-teep’, rain and its vernacular sounds from the provinces of our childhood, depending on where we heard the rain fall, on tin roofs or on waterlogged playgrounds, in Bangla chhawra-s, English nursery rhymes, or Hindi songs.
Just as rain has different smells on different terrains, so too with sound – the sound of rain is like snowflake, not one ‘settlement of sound’ is like the other.
June tears off the gnarled,
grey caul over the city.
Summer tumbles forth,
squalling, the dismal
afterbirth of cumulus
rinsed out with its rain.
Settlements of sound
spring from clefts in sidewalks, skies:
motile, vibrant burgs;
mall of dialects—
filigreed with earth, fire, frost;
and a pool of hush.
Karthika Nair, “Soundscapes in Saint-Denis”
the relentless hiss
as rain exodussed from every interstice
in the sky—invading earth, skin, eyes, hair and thought.
Karthika Nair, “Meridians”
If you are like me, a cloud watcher in Sravan, someone who imagines herself as the ‘Re’ note in Raag Megh, a pretender who thinks she can tell the history of the world by reading the clouds the way a palmist reads the lines on human hands, you will not realise when you have suddenly turned into a cloud, a messenger of wetness, a warrior and lover, both the same.
‘Aandaal, ஆண்டாள், an 9th century Vaishava Tamil mystic poet followed the poetic conventions of her time by requesting monsoon clouds to act as messenger to her love, the God of the Universe,’ Priya Sarukkai Chabria tells us.
Dark cloud roof unfurling beneath
the roof of the covering sky
do you herald the coming of my lord Tirumal from high
Venkata hill where the bright waterfall plunge? (8)
Monsoon clouds you spread across
the sky, slash
it raining torrents, you shake the honey-heavy blossoms
of Vengadam and scatter scented petals.
Go tell the dark lord who killed the demon Hiranya
ripping him with paws of fury
that he has robbed me of my bangles.
He must return them to me now! (5)
Translations from Naachiar Tirumozhi, The Sacred Songs of the Lady, are by Priya Sarukkai Chabria
There are black clouds and there are white clouds. Only one of them can carry the rain.
Does that make the rain racist?
Once, I also wrote a poem about the rain. In it was a plea: I wanted to make fever with the rain.
I only see you grow,
into a silver music,
into a skeleton of ruin.
to touch your toes,
to pull them outwards,
to crackle them,
to let my cousins hear
how I make love
to your slippery body.
I sew myself
on to river floors
and wait like a secret
resting on her elbow.
let me nurse
let me tease
out your blackheads,
bear you a child,
an inheritor of your soft fins.
cover my throbbing veins tonight,
that your ancestor
wasn’t a pirate on a smudgy sky.
tell me that I’m a thud
on your translucent skin.
tell me that
I’m the lover
you lost last August,
that you’ve only come
to lick my blisters,
to collect the last word
I threw at you.
tell me that you will come
to the stone fair with your dog.
We will make fever.
This brings me to my last question: Is there anyone in the world who has not got wet in the rain?
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