Hurricanes may come and go, along with thunder storms and torrential downpours. They bring destruction and despair. Yet, for sheer volume, nothing in nature mimics the monsoon rains of India.
You don’t have to wait for the monsoons to feel the power of rain in India. There, on the large subcontinental bulge of western Asia, rain does not gather in ballooning clouds to weep a harvest of moisture over folk and field. No cumulus towers or cirrian layers warn of encroaching torrents. In Uttar Pradesh, a gargantuan storm arrives after the entire sky forms itself into a deceptively mid-grey quilt of minimally diverse gradation.
Over time, perhaps an hour, or as little as five minutes, the atmospheric cloak deepens into an angry gloom; just as though the moon had muted the sun’s myriad beams with gossamer. High up, above the clouds, a haze and then a wooly lens slides across every visible scene. Day becomes dusk, and then night. Finally, as if a spinning lottery ball had just this second fallen into the winning slot, the heavens open and water pressure to rival that in a suite at Trump Towers drenches everything left out in the open.
Windows in thousands of cars rise as swiftly and evenly as if powered by a single button. Rickshaw drivers unhinge the canopies lying crimped and idle just above the two wheels at the back. Some canopies are riddled with cracks, slits and holes, providing the passenger less protection than a folded newspaper, but nonetheless, the rickshaws are hailed frantically by anyone afoot. At the same time, busy sidewalks become choked with all the people who just moments before had been pacing along at the edge of the road, skirting the gutters and deftly dodging garbage, cow pies, puddles filled with a panoply of waste, human and otherwise, joined on the pavement by a pathway of spiky leaves, brilliant marigold yellow and purple petals from garlands offered at a downtown shrine.
For a few moments, as the torrent surges forth, there is an illusion of the earth being scoured, of an old-fashioned spring cleaning, one will leave the world sparkling and pristine. But, like a chimera, the illusion doesn’t last. As the clouds wring themselves to dripping and later a transitory dryness, it is evident that the streets are now filthy and wet instead of just being filthy.
The lucky have taken refuge inside, some at the Starbucks’ cousin, the Café Coffee Day, or at Bata Shoes, an international chain, where the canny manager quickly puts out a rack of plastic and rubber sandals. On the other side of the coffee shop is bookstore, where students become more willing to stand in line to purchase cramming books on chemistry, civil service, and English literature alongside parents happy to be out of the rain as they buy the latest fashion in notebooks and colored pens for their primary school children. On the best seller shelf sits Mistress of Spices, a tale of mystery, magic, and the power of cinnamon and saffron.
Down the block, their windows shimmering with streams of water falling from the roofs, is a textile bouquet of sari and fabric stores. Steamy windows display offerings of amber, crimson, sunflower yellow, verdant emeralds, and aquamarine yardage The winter rains of Lucknow cannot dim the radiance of this rebelliously brilliant cloth. Acres of drapery, thin, fragile fabric are a’twinkle with crystals, sequins, and burnished metallic thread. Neither penury nor caution can keep a woman from wanting to own, to take possession of, and then, perhaps through the wearing of such woven jewels, transfer that magnificence to themselves, to actually become the color in the window.
In the rain, the fabric and woven yards of color are a gift, a visual relief from dirt, grunge, and the all to frequent things-that-don’t-work in India. Feminine fabric is always on the job, delivering a million candle-watt of glow amid the muck. Is it any surprise that shopping is a sport second only to cricket, even on rainy days in India?