“Pitter patter, sprinkle and pour
Flash and dazzle, rumble and roar!”
That sums up Monsoons in India. As I prepare for my annual visit this summer, I find myself sharing monsoon stories with my child. No other rainy day experience has quite the charm or the nostalgia quotient, for those of us who grew up in India.
The heavens opened like clockwork every afternoon, and the ensuing deluge washed away the heat and dust of the day, leaving the world cool and sparkling as it eased into dusk. The distinctive fragrance of the parched soil as it absorbed the first rain drops remains the stuff of my dreams! I have never been able to experience that fragrance anywhere else in the world – if I could bottle it up, I would!
The Monsoon features boldly in every facet of life in India, inspiring classical ragas, movie plots (rain dance sequences), poetry and naturally – food. There are recipe books of specific foods that can be prepared to enhance the mood around the rainy season. The summer rains hold such a special place in our cultural fabric, that new born infants and kids are often taken outdoors to be soaked in the first rain showers of the season. I remember dancing with my friends, sticking out my tongue to drink in the fat drops as the warm rain pelted down at the end of the day. It was our favorite form of entertainment. No T.V show or gadget could have given us such bountiful joy!
Treks to school were especially fun during the monsoon. Khaki raincoats provided some protection, but we were drenched to the skin nevertheless! The collapsible umbrella was a relatively expensive commodity when I was in middle school. But it was the one thing we would make sure we carried in our bags to school. The day would dawn bright and the barometer would soon rise from warm to sweltering. It would stay that way through morning recess, midday lunch and afternoon recess… right up until 10 minutes or so before the gong sounded to signal day’s end. As we exited chattering away, we would notice the grey clouds gathering overhead. And out came the plethora of umbrellas. A vivid spread of colors and patterns, interspersed with the ubiquitous black ‘old fashioned’ kinds, would sail through the school grounds and down the streets; some to the bus stop, some to waiting cars and two wheelers, while I walked back home with a kid sister in tow.
Being the older one, I was expected to be responsible and mature. Amma would berate us if we did not use our umbrellas or raincoats, coming home soaked to the skin. The lack of washers and dryers meant she had to hang dry and iron the sodden clothes for school the next day. But I must admit; while I tried to keep my active sister from puddle jumping, trying very hard to be stoic about it, I did give up and engage in it myself once in a while. Peppa Pig had nothing on us when it came to “jumping up and down in muddy puddles!” We would laugh about it and figure out ways to get around Amma’s inevitable scolding.
Some memories stand out brighter than visual snapshots – and they are associated with my nose. The wizened old woman sitting outside the school gates, selling salted peanuts, steamed or roasted over coals, was a regular fixture. She came everyday and sat sheltering under her patched-up black umbrella, squatting on her haunches, chewing tobacco. The kids gathered around her braving the tobacco spittle spraying out at them from in between her missing teeth. But her twinkling eyes and smile ensured her a faithful clientele!
At the end of the school day, my poor rumbling stomach was tortured by the fragrant little newspaper cones she sold! My parents were not partial to the practice of handing out pocket money. We lived close enough to the school and walked back and forth. They did not understand why we might need money for ‘accidental’ spending. There were strictly to be no ‘accidents’ of any nature between school and home – and there ended the matter, should we dare to discuss it.
So every day, the aroma of gently steaming peanuts wafted into the moist humid air as I desperately sheltered under my umbrella; trying to assuage my overactive taste buds with a stern lecture about the perils of ingesting the newsprint that formed the cone packaging. My sister was less disciplined about this matter. Her friend bought some every day and generously shared it with her! It made me crave the little 50.paisa treat all the more!
Finally, tortured to the point of distraction, I made bold and asked Amma if I could buy some the next day. I must have made a good case, citing the health benefits of peanuts or some such, I don’t exactly recall. But as luck would have it, she agreed. I went to school pleased as punch about the fortuitous change in my finances! One might think I’d won the lottery! Such was my excitement!
The monotonous school day dragged on as it usually did, with one class flowing into the next. And as the hour of departure loomed, my anxiety mounted with it. My mind plotted the quickest exit from the classroom the second the gong sounded, so I could beat the hordes milling about my much anticipated prize. There was no way I would miss out on getting myself some warm, salty, steamed peanuts – newsprint be damned!
As usual, the clouds gathered for their seasonal duty. Securely tucked under my umbrella, I tried to wade through the melee holding tightly to my sister’s hand. All the pushing, shoving and navigating got us to the other side of the swarm successfully enough. But when we got there – there was no aroma of peanuts! My poor nose, diverted by the anxious chatter in my brain – failed to alert me to the absence of the old woman and her basket of coals! Utter disaster! Of all the days she could pick, she seemed to have chosen to absent herself from her station – on the very day my tastebuds had launched into overdrive! There was no disappointment keener than the one I experienced that day.
What else was to be done, but to walk home trying to console ourselves with puddles, while avoiding cow patties, clinging to the hope that the next day would bring with it a warm peanut promise!
Ah! The simple joys of the monsoon!
- 2 cups red skin peanuts
- 1/4 cup onions, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh coriander, roughly chopped, (stems and all)
- 1-2 tablespoons red chilli powder ( optional)
- salt to taste
- freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
- In a medium non stick pan, dry roast your peanuts to release the aromas. (You could add a teaspoon of oil)
- Add a little salt and then add the onions. Allow them to soften and then turn off the heat.
- Add the coriander, Chilli powder and more salt at this stage. Stir to combine and then add the lemon juice. Taste to check seasoning.
- Serve warm with chilled glasses of beer!
Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. She has held art shows in London, Bangalore and locally here in California.