It’s raining in Calcutta now. And I’m writing about it sitting in a sunny, humid, sweltering city a couple of thousand kilometers away. That itself should be proof enough of my yearning for rain, in Calcutta. Every year at the advent of monsoon, there is a part in me which unfailingly craves to be in Calcutta to savour the climate. The dilapidated city looks surreal, feels surreal, and infinite memorable moments are born with each earthward drop.
I have lived in Calcutta for eight years only. I have also lived in a few other metropolises of the world during rains. Miami – yes, Mumbai – yes, Hyderabad – yes, New York – briefly yes, London – briefly yes, Belfast – yes. I have watched the preparation, the actual precipitation, soaked and froze myself in those rains, and yet, whenever it rains anywhere it reminds me of Calcutta. I have eons of memories as I spent the crucial monsoons of my life in the city. The shadows of deep dark pregnant clouds on the moss-lined walls of our old Ballygunge flat used to bring out the poet in me each monsoon. They were not necessarily works of art, I must assure you, but they never failed to fill the pages of my diary. I was naive then, yes. Even an edged word from my best friend drove me to melancholy and made me seek solace in the rain. I could sit hours on the window sill and day-dream with incessant patter in the background. That is something I still do. The rains compel me to day-dream. They make even amateurish dreams seem achievable.
Calcutta becomes ‘my city’ whenever it rains. I fall in love and with the city too, each monsoon. The thunders and lightning accompanied by the first earthy smell after days of scorch make the Nor’westers seem completely worth in summer. But monsoon, is a different story for me. I miss the cats-and-dogs rains which don’t last for more than a day or two unlike the incessant rains in Mumbai. The streets are waterlogged, they become ephemeral streams for a few days. The ponds looming in the shadows of huge plantain leaves overflow on incomplete roads. The nostalgia of a huge leap barefoot from the school bus to the waterlogged street near home still brings a smile on me. I secretly wish for that leap again which would smudge my skirt with a blob of muddy water. That piece of memory is always followed by a steaming hearty meal made by Ma.
Rains are also synonymous to exotic, traditional, calorific and hot (in every sense) food for me. I still try to welcome the first rains with crispy, burning traditional Bengali onion fritters followed by hot and sweet tea. This year however, it brought acidity and heartburn with it reminding us that we are ageing. It is invariably Aloor Chop (mashed potato fritters) though, when we are in Calcutta during rains. Sadly enough, I am no craftsman of that amazing fried snack at home, so I have to be satisfied with onion fritters and tea. I can never forget the rainy evenings I spent with friends at the University of Calcutta laboratories, accompanied by trips to nearby waterlogged shops for Aloor Chop and Muri (puffed rice). My father, like all Bengali men, treated us with the savoury Hilsa each monsoon. These days, my husband tries the same despite living away from Calcutta just to relive the memories.
Rain in Calcutta is the epitome of nostalgia for me since I left the city. The sky turns a beautiful dark sombre hue, the clouds hang tentatively over high terraces waiting to burst open, the hailstorms (yes, they still make rare occurrences) make me run for cover, and the rains make me happy. Still.
The images used in this post are clicked by Subhamoy Sinha Roy.