Saturday 30 June 2012

Monsoon bliss

"It is a sound most beloved to me. The sound of rain in the night. A sound that makes me glad that I am where I am ─ In my little cottage in Mundakotukurussi hearing the rains fall─ That I have a roof over my bed and bedclothes to snuggle into. It brings to mind wellbeing while lost in meandering thoughts.
For days now I have waited for the rain as each summer day emerged wrapped by the heat. A woolen shroud that held within it the legs of time, stilling all movement, hindering every thought and breath.

The cicadas vent their fury. All day from all around. At times the vigour subsides but the music of the trees do not cease. It is a dry sound like the rasping hiss of tinders rubbing against each other. The sound of summer.

The fields lie brown and baked. Tufts of paddy stand. Brown flowers that crackle even as you look at it. Wells dry. Sweat prickles every brow and rushes down the temple. Exhaustion lines every face and dogs every step. Most evenings the clouds gather; a herd of grey cows bearing rain in their udders. Sometimes they consent to being milked and allow the rain to flow…

Sometimes they wander away leaving a restless parched land in their wake.The thunderstorms seldom last long. The land sizzles and splutters under the impact of the rain. Every drop is lapped up by the thirsty land. A puddle is rare. Wetness even rarer.The nights are still. The fireflies have gone into hiding.

In the morning you know the heat will reappear. A daytime ghoul strangling the breath of the hour. Harder and harder. In your heart you know a fear then. The worst fear of all: Will this ever end? And then what next?

Everyone starts talking about the monsoon then. Everyone I know and meet. Our conversations weave around the monsoon. It perhaps becomes the only way to live the summer through….All through May, newspapers are scanned for meteorological reports on the monsoon sightings…’When the monsoon arrives’ becomes the mantra of survival. And sanity.

Late in the afternoon the heat seems to hit an absolute crescendo. The whirring fan circulates the warm air. Around and around. There never will be respite, one sighs.

Then it begins. One day the listless air begins to move. Clouds gather and move up the coast. Leaves rustle and the skies darken. Lightening and thunder. The bars of heat loosen and with its first drops, the rain snap apart the inert month. The earth feeds of this rain. A greedy baby devouring the colostrum of fecundity. More, more, more, the earth craves for this thin watery rain. Then sated for the moment, it belches. A deep dank fragrance. Moist earth laden with the memories of sun-baked days and crumbling surfaces.

The wetness of rain. The wetness of release.Rain falls. On the skin it feels as if it were a thousand arrows shot by a god. A tingling, a ringing, a singing that punctured pores and raked the senses.

Sheets of rain that made islands of houses. A haze of water that dispersed people and sound, trapping colour and light and refracting reprieve.

Life exhales. The relief of having got past the summer.

In my little cottage, I lie on the bed staring at the roof. As the thunder roll and heave, I cock an ear. For that first plop. I hear it then. All over the cottage are plastic cans. Old paint buckets to capture every errant drop that escapes through the roofing tiles. Plop. Plop. Plop. The rain make its presence known.
Ever since I built the cottage, the onset of the monsoon causes a nervous flittering in the pit of my stomach. I do not know what it is I can do to stop the leaks.

Then someone suggests we toss hay on the roof. “It is only a temporary measure but it should work for a while,” he says. “The poor do it all the time. But, tell me, why did you get a tile roof put in instead of a concrete one?

For the rain, I think. I hoped to lie in bed and hear that beloved sound. The soft magical music of rain on tile roofs. The drip and drop from the eaves.

The power goes off. It comes back in a minute and then goes off again. On and off, on and off. In affluent homes, the emergency light or the inverter comes on. I light a candle and place it in a saucer. There are no harsh surprises, none of the not-knowing-what-to-do. With this I will make do till morning or whatever time the power chooses to return.

I get up and go to sit in the verandah and watch the rain fall. A frog leaps joyous with wetness. A world washed in rain is entertainment by itself…"

Anita Nair is the bestselling author of The Better Man, Ladies Coupe, Mistress and Lessons in Forgetting. Her books have been translated into over 30 languages around the world. Her new novel Cut Like Wound will be published in August 2012.

Thursday 7 June 2012

The tea bliss - Anita Nair

“So what will you do once you reach Nilambur?” my parents asked, bemused at the thought I was going to take a train ride to a destination where I had no real reason to go to.

“I don’t know.” I replied. And that was the truth.

I was taking the train to Nilambur simply because it had remained a desire in the fringes of my mind for ever so long. What thereafter? was something I hadn’t pondered about.

In my mid-teens when my peers were experimenting with various substances ranging from pan parag to cigarettes to marijuana, I rode buses instead. I would take a local bus to its final stop – the bus depot. And take a bus back home. That was my idea of a rush. For about ninety minutes, I sat watching life and feeling the breeze in my face, and a journey was all I needed to distance myself from reality.

The train ride to Nilambur was just that. I had nothing to see or do there. I was quite happy to take the next train back…. but then destiny intervened. Or more precisely, hunger.

It was noon when I reached Nilambur, and so I went seeking lunch.

If the state gazette published such things, I am quite certain that they would declare ‘parotas and mutton chops’ as the official dish of Nilambur. It would be silly to try and eat anything else there. So I went with the prevailing dictate and ordered precisely that.

Much as I relish eating different cuisines around the world in speciality restaurants, small town Kerala restaurants have a special place in my heart. Even the most common place dishes taste extra special. The trick is to steer clear of Chinese, Tandoori or north Indian dishes in these places as they taste most often nothing like the real thing, and opt only for Kerala cuisine. The flavours then are authentic and the taste pure heaven.

Once I was replete with what seemed like fine flaky parotas and a lip smacking egg roast, the thought of taking a train back almost immediately didn’t appeal. And so I went looking for something to take back as an experience, a memory….

It was a hot afternoon and I had the beginnings of a headache. And I had been wandering all day . It was also a Friday and so just about every little restaurant in the district was closed for Friday prayers.

“I can’t believe this,” I told the photographer-writer team travelling with me as we passed several ‘cool bars’ and ‘bakeries’ but with no tea. “Here we are in Kerala which is supposed to be tea shop centric and I can’t find a cup of tea. Whatever happened to the Nair tea shop with a Nair in there in a vest and mundu and pouring a stream of tea from one steel mug to another while a samovar hissed in the forefront!”

“They are either in the gulf or working in a call centre,” the driver of the car murmured.

The pounding in my head grew in intensity. Then on a quiet road as we approached Vallapuzha, I spotted a sign HOTAL.

That was it. No hotel (or hotal) whatever. No claim to name or lineage. And it was open. A few ramshackle benches and tables in a shop with grimy walls and flaking plaster. A glass case held a small pile of banana fritters and masala vadas.

An elderly man stepped out of an inner room.

“Tea,” I asked hesitantly.

He nodded.

I sat on one of the benches and stared at the road and beyond. A group of road workers walked in. They stared. I stared back. I said to myself : this tea better be good after this eyeball wrestling!

The staring contest ceased when the ‘hotal’ owner walked in from the kitchen and bid them to sit down.

The tea arrived in glass tumblers. Hot, strong and with the just right amount of sugar. He also brought a plate of Papada vada (papadums coated in a batter of rice flour, chilli powder and a hint of asafoetida).

A sip of the tea. A bite of the vada. Heavenly bliss! Everything else ceased to matter.

© Anita Nair

Anita Nair is the author of five works of fiction: Satyr of the Subway & Eleven Other Stories, The Better Man, Ladies CoupĂ©, Mistress and Lessons in Forgetting; a collection of essays: Goodnight & God Bless; a collection of poems: Malabar Mind; and has edited Where the Rain is Born: Writings about Kerala. Nair has also written four books for children and two plays Nine Faces of Being and A Twist of Lime. She has also translated Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s Chemmeen into English.

Check out her new online writing Heavenly Bliss Salon for Men