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The memory remains

The 8th of May 2008 was my first day at the UNODC office in Cambodia. As I was very new to the city of Phnom Penh, my fellow intern (J) kindly offered to show me around the city at lunchtime. He was an American of South Korean extraction, straddling both cultures admirably. We were walking along St. 57, being steadily broiled in the heat and humidity when the faintest waft of a very familiar smell made me pause. I turned to J and said "Its going to rain today."

He looked at the sky, which was a clear blue and sceptically asked me how I knew that. I said I could smell it. He thought I was making it up, hoped I was not crazy and laughed my words off heartily. In his shoes, I don't blame him. When a guy you've only just met suddenly makes cryptic remarks about the weather, he was bound to wonder if I was a few slices short of a loaf. I remember that scene very acutely because I could not get him to understand a sensation we take for granted in India. The smell of wet earth on the wind, foretelling the rain.

I've written more than one rain-related post on this blog. I make no excuses because I know that Indians cut across language, religion and skin tone when they embrace the coming of the monsoon. That comforting smell in the air is in our blood & in our memory. Oddly enough, after 2006, I have not taken in that heady bouquet in Pune. In 2007 I was in the U.S and the rain has no special smell there. In 2008 I was in Cambodia and after that feather-light first breath, I did not come across it again. Last year, I remember it was a Thursday afternoon and I was on my way home to Pune, the start of 4 day weekend. At 4:30 pm when I got off the bus, the coolness in the air hit me and I knew I'd missed the first shower.

Today afternoon, after 4 years, the old familiar tang of Pune rain was at the window. I went to the balcony of what was once my room, rested chin on palms and took it all in. It was a panorama I have seen countless times without becoming bored. The pink of the building walls are now deeper, small pools of water have collected in the scars of the road and the trees have bowed their heads in supplication. The building opposite mine has been a mute witness to this ritual for many years. Today, I thought about how many of the windows in that building had become dark and unfamiliar over 18 long monsoons.

And suddenly, for no discernible reason, I was in the throes of an emotional maelstrom; melancholy, nostalgia, uncertainty, sadness, fear.

I came back to my computer, found a cup of tea steaming gently and a plate of ginger biscuits waiting, my familiar comforts. I sipped on some of the brew, nibbled on the rough spice of the biscuit and...

And wrote this.

Song for the moment: Let it rain - Eric Clapton


Laksh said…
Stumbled on this piece quite by accident, while looking for inspirational 'interior decoration' ideas.
It's uncanny because as I am reading this, Bangalore is experiencing a summer shower, heralded by that most evocative of smells - rain on dry earth...
Enjoyed your writing. Thanks.

girish said…
I'm glad you liked it. Hope you visit the blog more, now that you know its there.
Gauri Gharpure said…
It is very difficult to evoke fragrance through words and you have done just that. One of the most poetic posts I have read in a while..

I had written something about one such rainy evening long time back, you may like to read..
Anonymous said…
@ Gauri - Generous praise from someone who can evoke such fantastic images using so few words. I visited that post and it was amazing.
Gauri Gharpure said…
ha ha! don't undermine the appreciation by attaching the needless adjective "generous".

and thnks for reading tht one. Sadly, no one has replied there yet, did you leave a few words there??

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