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The population of India is over 1.2 billion. Any statement that you make about Indians, it is likely that both it and its opposite will be equally valid. Many Indians like cricket, but others don’t. Many like mangoes (me!), others shun the fruit. Most Indians like spicy food, in fact, I actually don’t know any who don’t, but I’m sure they exist. (Oh, I suppose my father is one!)

Actually there are other statements that are less obvious, that have a better chance of being true — Indians (hardly ever) go to school on elephants, and Indians (hardly ever) dance around trees, even though there is a whole film industry trying to prove otherwise. A statement that I am prone to making, and which someone or other unfailingly pipes up to disagree with is, “All Indians can sing.” And there’s another that I want to be true, but I know that it just isn’t. “Indians love the rain.”

Apparently they don’t. Or not all of them anyway. I know people who have been traumatised by Bombay rains, and even I would be hard pressed to argue that the many millions of slum dwellers in that city enjoy the torrential and massively disruptive rains every year. Any yet, I like to think that rain, or at least the notion of rain, holds a special place in the hearts of most, if not all Indians.

For nearly all of India, rain comes as relief from scorching heat. Through the months of March, April and May, the mercury rises steadily. People avoid stepping out in the afternoon because the sun is at its most merciless then. When the first grey clouds make an appearance, they bring with them the promise of something new. And when the first rain falls, there is a fragrance that rises from the parched earth that is unmatched in the whole wide world.

From there it is anyone’s guess how things will go. In the bigger picture, the rain is critical for the country’s argiculture based economy, but too much or too little can mean floods or droughts, and either can make for a disastrous crop. In the smaller picture too it can mean many things — a hot cut of tea, with pohe and bhaji is the positive end of the spectrum, getting drenched, muddying your clothes, wading through waist deep water and getting stuck at work progressively take you to the other extreme.

But in the culture at large, rain is largely portrayed in a positive light we have Nargis and Raj Kapoor singing of love under an umbrella in the 1955 movie Shri 420, we have a carefree Sridevi singing Na Jane Kahan Se Aayi Hai in the 1989 movie ChaalBaaz, and a million other songs filmed in the (fake!) rain. Romantic, naughty, sad, every emotion has been played out against the backdrop of rain. In fact, some of the earliest songs one learns in Marathi are about the rain “Yere, yere pausa, Tula deto paisa, Paisa zala khota, Paus aala motha” is one. And “Saang, saang Bholanath, paus padel ka? Shale bhowti tale sachoon sutti milel ka?” is another. (Both are about kids wanting it to rain.) And one of my favourite book titles is inspired by a “rain poem” — Vikram Chandra’s Red Earth and Pouring Rain takes its title from these lines by a Sangam Age poet.

What is my mother
to yours? How is my father related
to yours? Although
you and I knew not each other in any way,
just as red earth and pouring rain:
the love-filled hearts merged.

It has taken me a while to accept that rain does not evoke any such deep feelings in other parts of the world, where it often adds insult to the injury of the coldest temperatures of the year. In the Bholanath song above, the kid asks for rain so he will get a day off from school, in the song “Rain rain go away, Little Johnny wants to play, Rain rain go away, Come again another day,” the kid is asking for the exact opposite. (Though the kid wants to play in both cases, how’s that for consistency!) [1]

Childhood experiences are indelible in many ways, and the associations I have with rain run deep. Even today, rainfall affects me in an intense and wordless way. It doesn’t matter if it rains in the winter, if it makes my fingers numb, if it is miserable and snowy when it rains. Rain still has the power to reach inside me and make whatever chemical changes are necessary to take me back to my childhood experiences of it. When I woke up to rain this morning, I still smiled like a kid and went “Yay!” inside. Even after all these years of being outside India, this particular umbilical cord remains unsevered. Even today, the rain still takes me home.

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[1] Once you accept that rain is viewed widely differently in two parts of the world, it comes as no surprise that so is the sun. We have in a Hindi song “Zindagi dhoop, tum ghana saaya” (“Life is the scorching sun, you are the cool shade”), and the Americans have the very popular, “You are my sunshine.”

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