The Untimely Winter Rain in Kolkata
Kolkatans have a bittersweet relationship with rains. The Kalboishakhi rains in summer and the following monsoon bring expected chaos that they love and hate. Then there’s an untimely winter rain in Kolkata, which can wreak much-awaited havoc in their hearts.
The Norwesters calm the Tandav of summer, and the monsoons that follow wake the poet within the Kolkatans. During the rainy season, Bangla exhibits fifty shades of green. As monsoon bids goodbye, paving way for the autumn, the skies turn fluorescent blue, with the white cottony clouds. But suddenly, you’ll find a layer of grey in the sky and a downpour. This is monsoon still coming back to pick up the pieces she has left behind.
Then it’s the turn for hemanta season, the harbinger of winter. He brings a mix of toastiness of the sun and a light coldness in the wind which feels sharp up the nose. The trees start to look browner, and the roads dustier. But winter is a playful coquette. She titillates Kolkata.
The only way she unveils herself in full glory is after a sudden burst of unpredicted winter rain in Kolkata.
Kolkatans like to complain about these sudden rains, the water in the potholes, and the dullness of colours. Yet, in every classroom, there’s a teenager listening to the pitter-patter of the rains instead of the teacher. In every house is a man who sips on to his coffee and breathes in the petrichor. In every office is a woman who wants to run in the rain and jump in the puddles.
Winter arrives, holding the hands of the untimely winter rain in Kolkata. Soon, the wetness of the breeze slowly goes away; and, before anyone notices, the chill in the air enamours our lives. Kolkatans love their winters. It is the time for book fairs and Christmas cakes, followed by Saraswati Puja and Valentines’ Day. It’s the time for orangish mornings and grey evenings, with a translucent smog shrouding the city mysteriously.
Winters in Kolkata add a kind of laziness to the lives of people. Those five extra minutes beneath the lep-kombol, that shrivelling into a ball within a sleepy hug, the steaming bowl of Maggi – winter feels fuzzy in the soul. The cup of tea always smells more beautiful in the winter. The rum in the belly seems to soothe more than just the bout of cold. And notun gurh dripping from the pithey? Now, that’s what every Bangali calls heaven. Nahoum’s Christmas cake comes and goes, paving way for the picnic season, with the Darjeeling-er komlalebu and the koraishutir kochuri, because the oranges and the peas are never as fresh as they are in winter.
Every year, for a day or two, the temperature dips below 10. There’s a bitter-sweet relationship between Kolkatans and the winter chill. They complain when it’s around, then celebrate it with beautiful woollen clothes warmers. Streets in Wellington get lined with Bhutia shops where handmade products are sold for the winter-fearing citizens who love to show off their winterwear collection. And then, when winter realises it has given everything in its jhola to the city of joy, it starts packing its bags. That’s when the Kolkatans realise how much they really love winter. They just don’t want to let go.
That’s the time for a constant internal conflict: to use or not to use the lep-kombol, to turn on the fan or not, to bathe or not to bathe in hot water, and so on. And then comes a whiff of breeze that, along with a chilly nip, bears the aroma of the forthcoming spring. Kolkatans realise that it time for winter to go and welcome spring.
Every year comes a time when Kolkatan struggle with the idea of winter bidding farewell when the citizens cannot overcome the attraction of the young and sensuous spring. That’s when an unlikely event takes place. It’s an untimely, surprise visitor who confuses the sky and the winds. It’s the winter rain in Kolkata again.
It rains incessantly for a day or two – or more. And suddenly, everything looks different.
While the sky looks dreary, the roads start to glisten and reflect the streetlights. The sounds of splashes and the clattering rains soothe the nerves. The rickshaw-walas, seen sleeping in the golden afternoon sun near their tana rickshaws with the street dogs, even a few days before, face a brief demand in the narrow lanes of the North. In the middle of the night, when the thunderstorm booms on your window, you lie awake in your bed, till it whistles a lullaby and you doze off.
The next morning, the thick, impenetrable layer of grey seems to be lifted from the city. People stand at their windows, wondering when so many new houses appeared in the cityscape – because, this morning, they can see the houses in the houses and the remaining patches of brown-green trees in the distance. The roads shine like a mirror in the sunlight, and the dust gets washed away to reveal bright colours.
Evening sky shows off a mix of pinks, purples, reds, and oranges. And thus, the winter stays behind just for a few more days. The chill returns to Kolkata air, and the shawls come out again. The fans stay off and the unexpected khichuri tastes too good to be true. By the time the roads dry up and the dust begins to settle on the leaves of the trees again, Winter leaves on tiptoes in the middle of the night. Soon, Dol comes along and sweeps the city with colours.