The drive up to Naini Tal is through unbelievable lush vegetation. The hills and stark peaks, near the town, are softened by the fuzz of greenery. The jacarandas are still holding forth bravely and the upper reaches of the sturdy trees flaunt mauve sprays and occasionally, till Jeolikote at least, bougainvillea bushes are lit by scarlet, white and golden blooms. The Mall road in Naini Tal is lined with rain flowers staring dewy-eyed at the glowering sky. The chinaar leaves look pert and fresh.
Mysterious ferns emerge from out of hibernating roots. Plants propagate generously – a cutting can grow into a healthy vigorous plant. The rain washes away the dust and dirt and brings out the sheen in leaves, washes down the walls and the streets till they look immaculately clean. Only we must turn a blind eye to the muck swept down and out by the heavy downpours, when drains are non-existent or blocked. The walls along the way, are covered with velvety moss, wads of which are wedged between bricks on the path making the passage slippery and treacherous.
There is magic in the monsoon season, a flamboyance and sobriety too. It is reminiscent of childhood when a heavy downpour might have meant a holiday. I still feel exhilarated when the rain drums on the umbrella and the heavy shafts of rain bounce raindrops off the asphalt. But there is the dull ache of old injuries which wells up in joints and limbs.
There are some monsoon days one remembers forever. A family outing to see a movie – which was an occasion then – was once marked by a heavy downpour. We were drenched but unwilling to give up the movie for which the tickets had been bought. The drenched clothes of youngsters were hung on the back of seats. The hall was nearly empty and no one seemed to mind the informality. It isn’t that the present monsoon days are bad but the irretrievable quality of the past lends some an alluring charm.
Today too children step blissfully into puddles and squelch happily through the day in damp shirts and trousers, but rarely do I see them floating paper boats in drains or elsewhere. The fog erupts from distant mysterious crevices and smudges outlines of trees and buildings. It lifts as suddenly and the atmosphere is clear and pure. Right on top of a tree a lone crow caws its unmelodious song while the mynah spreads one damp wing and combs it out. Sparrows fly down, despite the heavy shower, as you open the door to receive their daily allowance of a fistful of rice. They peck the grains off the road in seconds.
Monsoon is flavoured with the sweetness of mangoes, lichees, plums, peaches, apples. The heaped fruits at the green-grocers please the eye and whet the appetite. But monsoon fruits have a sharpness and can be hard on the stomach,
But somewhere in some other part of the country houses are awash, rivers are in spate, roads are not negotiable, there is slush everywhere and overflowing drains spew the dirt, plastic bags on to roads already under water. Life, in brief, is hard.
Monsoon’s symphony has both high and low notes but it is for all to experience every year.
Photo credits: Devaki Rajbala
Read more from Deepa here: