Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Thunderstorms and Me by Chitra Soundar

The rain is raining all around,

It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea. 

-       Robert Louis Stevenson

As I sit at my table in Singapore and look through the window, what I see mirrors exactly the words of Stevenson. I was excited to leave the biting cold of England to fly across continents to enjoy the sunshine and I’ve been blamed for bringing the grey skies and relentless rain to this hot island.

Thunderstorms in Singapore - A view from the 23rd floor
 My relationship with rain and thunderstorms is as fundamental as my roots. I’ve been woken up as a child often to gathering dark clouds and cracking thunder. The stormy winds, the warnings to fishermen and the flooding of our streets are deeply etched in my memory.

Rain has fallen all the day. 

O come among the laden trees: 
The leaves lie thick upon the way 
Of memories.

-       James Joyce

The crack of thunder and the flash of lightning fascinated me as a child. I’ve never feared the ferocious winds that howl and growl. I remember sitting by  my window, listening to the wind, reading a book. I remember making hot pakoras for snacks and hot tea with cardamom and ginger for everyone at home.

Those rains were warm even though they soaked from head to toe in a few seconds. Those rains were welcome on the parched soil, even though they fell in big drops filling the potholes on the street.

Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami and Jamel Akib
But I’ve feared them occasionally. I was perhaps ten and it was one of those monsoon storms and my father hadn’t returned home. The buses had stopped, the roads were flooded and I was worried for him to return. It had taken him four hours to journey the ten kilometres hitching a lift with strangers and walking part of the way.

Another time, I would have been eight, and it was a brutal monsoon. The rains hadn’t stopped in days and a stray dog had given birth to six puppies. She had taken shelter under the roof of our backyard. She was shivering in the cold and her puppies were hungry. Normally dogs were not allowed inside our compound. So I had to fight the elders for permission, to let her stay. We filled a bowl full of milk and put out rice on an old plate. And one of the new-born puppies couldn’t survive the dampness of its surroundings. I cried for days, for a stray puppy, whose life I couldn’t help save.
Photo: C Coxon
These incidents in the rain always find themselves lodged in my memory and turn up in stories. Almost 14 years ago, I wrote a story called Afraid of Dogs – about a little girl who has to overcome her fear of dogs to save the stray puppies. Although I should say the little girl in me is still afraid of dogs generally. It takes me enormous effort to stay calm and friendly even with familiar pets in friends’ homes.

But the fear of the big thunderstorms was washed away long ago when my dad explained to me about parched land, the water under the ground and the well in our back garden. We understood the cycle of rain and the price of crops when my grandmother’s sister visited us from the village. I also valued the rain after many weeks of harsh summers.

The gathering of dark clouds, the rain-bearing breeze and the fragrance of the earth when the first drops of the thunderstorm falls on it will always remind me of home. Scientists call this fragrance petrichor and I agree that it is the fragrance of the fluid that runs inside the veins of gods.

Monsoon Afternoon by Kashmira Sheth & Yoshiko Jaeggi
These thundery rainy days in Singapore, remind me of growing up in India, listening to the crash of the clouds, the unusually grey days and coolness of the air. I remember the croaking of the frogs in the puddles, the flash of lightning and the noise of rain falling on the terrace.

I feel calmer when I hear the thunder and the warm rain doesn’t scare me, it soothes my senses and the dark clouds envelop me in a warm cosy blanket. I would welcome the sunshine for sure. But this thunderstorm doesn’t get me down.

Chitra Soundar writes picture books and junior fiction when she’s not watching the rain through her window. Her next book You’re Safe With Me (illustrated by Poonam Mistry) with Lantana Publishing tells the story of the thunderstorm in an Indian jungle. Follow her on Twitter: @csoundar

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