BLAZING molten gold of the sun. Not a speck of cloud in the vast, unrelenting sky. Cracked earth, drooping plants, lackluster foliage, and dust suspended in the air. That is Delhi and most other parts of northern India in May and June. During these summer months, mercury touches 103 degrees F. or more. Only at dusk, there is some relief from the heat when the sun goes down in a glory of orange and red. How eagerly we all wait for the monsoon, the life-giving force. Hopefully we look for the rain-bearing clouds in the sky. The first showers of the season are most welcome. The parched earth slakes its thirst and is saturated. The water turns into puddles and rivulets. The symphony of rain pouring on the ground, trees, and houses, and the water splashing, swirling, running all over the place, is sweet and melodious. A peacock, the symbol of rain, dances with gay abandon, its glittering plumage fanned out in resplendent colors. No wonder it is India's national bird. Such is the magic of the monsoon.
Come December, and Delhi is in the midst of a cold spell, with temperatures dropping to 41 degrees F. or lower. But this is also the time of festivity, and to look one's best. The long-neglected items of winter-wear relive their usefulness. Our appetites sharpen, and the variety of food is limitless. The excitement of winter comes loaded with the joys of Diwali - the festival of lights, and of Christmas.
A few days before Christmas, along with the season's greetings, I received a highly nostalgic and peculiar request from my friend Ashok. Some three years back, the lure of money had dragged him to Saudi Arabia. A civil engineer working for a large company, he profited splendidly from the petro-economy of the country. His income appeared incredible by our modest Indian standards. But alas! money cannot buy everything. For example, the sound of rain, the sound of brooks and fountains. He wrote to me how he had been missing the sound of running water, the sweet murmur of rivers, music of waterfalls and above all, the sound of rain. He wondered if I could send him taped sound of rain falling on a tin roof.
Going down memory lane, I fondly recollected those exciting youthful days we had passed together. For hours, we talked nonstop. Once, on a borrowed rickety motorbike, we drove miles away just to hear the sound of a cataract. In fact, Ashok was carried away with all types of sounds associated with rain and abundance of water. The peeu of a peacock, the chirping of crickets, the croaking of frogs, and the warbling of cuckoo birds were exquisite pieces of melody to his ears. The years he had spent in engineering college and manly pursuits did in no way diminish his interest in things traditionally associated with poets and bards. He really took pleasure in the very anti-machismo of his offbeat predilection.
I could not ignore Ashok's earnest desire. And, as if to celebrate this sacrament of friendship, I did not have to wait for the rainy season, so far away. The day broke with subdued light. There were no menacing dark clouds, but it started drizzling. The rain was intermittent, though threatening to turn heavy anytime. As the office-goers listened to the spattering of rain on the windowpanes, they found it difficult to come out of their warm cozy beds.
Taking the cue from Ashok, who seemed so much infatuated with the sound of rain, I, too, tried to explore the magic of a cold rainy day. After playing the game of hide-and-seek with the clouds, the sun had retreated. As if in obeisance, the mercury dropped by a few degrees. I hailed the occasion by going out on an aimless drive along New Delhi's boulevards.
The trees, the grass, the hedges looked greener, the rain having washed off their long-accumulated dust. As vehicles sped past, I could hear the splash of water and see the light reflected from small puddles here and there. I wished Ashok were with me to enjoy the scene and savor the peculiar fragrance of that winter rainy day.
The rain had settled into a light, steady drizzle. I stopped at a crowded restaurant; men and women had brought in the musky smell of the wet atmosphere with their winter attire, their shoes, and umbrellas. Suddenly I remembered the task I had to perform - to record the sound of rain for Ashok. As I rushed home, it started pouring. This gladdened my heart.
Grabbing a new cassette and the tape recorder, I perched right under the tin roof of our outhouse. The continuous spattering of rain on the corrugated tin sheets had a heavenly rhythm, a sensuous sonority, and a soothing cadence - all rolled into one.