Written over the course of the first weeks of September 2014…Enjoy!
This morning the windows are studded with droplets of water, and the sun peeks out from behind charcoal clouds, shy and radiant, beams of light bouncing between minuscule molecules I can only imagine. All night long the rain pounded the building, this sturdy cement slab tower, and I woke occasionally to what sounded like a distant waterfall, but I knew it was the rain.
I have only known the monsoon season in India, having arrived in July, which was when the rains started. Usually, I am told, monsoon starts in June, but these ancient patterns are changing as global ocean currents shift and decadal oscillations take rest. So it’s hard to say just how long or short monsoon will be, though I hear thunder rumbles deeply, following flashes of lightning, as the monsoons make way for heat, and so far Rip Van Winkle sleeps soundly.
Like so much else in India, there is no predictability to the rains, no obvious warning to take cover, no far off horizon to study for hours on end, watching the storm come marching in. In Colorado, you could often set your watch to the monsoonal rains, making plans for early morning runs and mountain excursions. You could plant flowers and vegetables from dawn to midday, knowing if you timed it right you could save on water and let the rains soak the grounds instead. In Mumbai, a deluge sneaks up on you like a beautiful street child selling cheap plastic toys or asking for a bite to eat, hoping you won’t notice their approach until they are too close to deny. Water cascades from blue skies, flinging rainbows to the east or west, leaving you slack jawed, smiling, and soaked, chiding yourself for forgetting your umbrella again, but really, you think, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Last week I walked into my apartment after school, set down my computer and empty lunch dubbas, and stood looking down on the street below. Rickshawalas worked on broken tires and played with fraying wires. Young, barefoot boys in bright shirts carried buckets of water and rags to the ricks parked on the adjacent corner, offering their washing skills while the wallas sipped chai from tiny glass cups held between two fingers, the strong tea both scalding hot and sickly sweet. The first few drops fell softly, delicate plips and plops so infrequent you could count each one on the sidewalk before it evaporated. The surface of the Vakola Nala spillway rippled softly with concentric circles so wide and spread apart that you’d wonder if it was a fish rising and not precipitation falling.
Turning to the kitchen for my own cup of tea, I heard the roar through an open window, which I rushed to close as a monsoonal downpour started in earnest. Looking back, I saw only white. The ricksawalas, the chai stand, the waterway, pigs, crows, and slum, hidden behind a curtain of water thicker than I have ever seen before. For twenty, then thirty minutes more rain fell without pause. Traffic stopped (I could only tell by the absence of blaring horns and screeching brakes). The birds sought shelter where birds do (again it was the quiet, the hush that lets me make this presumption), and I watched in wonder at the ferocity of billions and billions of tiny atoms linked together only by mutually opposite attraction, watched them sweep away the present moment, force everything larger than themselves to stand still, to fall silent. And just as suddenly, it was done. Rickshaws started up, and the crows and kites swooped through the air, celebrating as far as I could tell. The sun peaked out, and I climbed to the roof to document a rainbow blossoming in the far off sky. The only evidence of the storm: a few puddles, and later the subtle rise of the water level in the Vakola.
Later that evening I rode through the puddles and potholes in my own rick, on the way to a Ganpati festival, traffic flowing smoothly even in the aftermath of the storm shower. I brought no umbrella, having broken mine in the first few weeks of being in Mumbai, and hoped to the sky to hold off the rains. As the sun set I ate chaat and dosas with friends, drank orange pop and water without ever letting the bottle touch my lips. When the drums started up, crowds moved from the food tent to surround the dancers and musicians who stomped and stamped out a story I didn’t understand, orange shirts blazing in the evening light. And then we danced, all of us, youngoldwomanman, danced for Ganesha, danced for joy, danced for the drumming and the movement that runs through us all. Dusk turned into evening and evening to night, and again rain fell – this time light, delicate, just enough so you couldn’t tell what was your own sweat and what the tears of god. A friend asked if I wanted to go inside, maybe? Maybe the rain was bothering me? Nahi, nahi, I smiled. I’m happy here, and I know I’m alive. Umbrella be damned, life is beautiful, na?
Here is one of my favourite practices, useful everyday, all day, but especially in times that you need help finding space and stillness in the midst of a rainstorm.
A Practice for Finding the Quiet Self
Because I can feel my feet on the ground
I know I exist and I am okay.
Because I can hear sounds
I know I exist and I am okay.
Because I can see
I know I am still here, and I am okay.
Because I am breathing,
I know I’m alive and I am okay.
May you all be happy and healthy!
May you dance with your heart and feet!