When it rained it poured. This was what monsoons were in the eighties and before. At least once every monsoon season there were days when it rained continuously. For three to four days, there would be drizzle on a continuous basis interspersed with a huge down pour. Everything was wet. The house would be damp and smelly. Everywhere inside the house, the clothes were spread out for drying. When the rains were severe, holidays were declared for the school.
This rain was good to enjoy on the first two dayd. From the third day on wards everyone longed to see the sun. These rains are unlike the summer showers. The weather was cold and it was not fun to get wet in these rains. Even when a holiday was declared, one could not do much. In those days, first whiff of rain and the electricity was off. So it was damp, cold and dark. Not much to do except for reading and rereading the meager supply of comic books and watching endlessly out of the window. Of course any number of things that could keep us occupied.
The tamarind seeds that were collected from the kitchen religiously were the saviors. In one game they became currency, in another the soldiers. Out came everyone’s stock of knick knacks. A big shell that was handed over from a distant cousin, an oddly shaped wooden peg, few playing cards which were from the discarded set of the elders, the variety was unlimited, and imagination too. The word “boredom” did not exist much in the vocabulary. Not having used to being entertained by the idiot box or the gadgets, the kids then were used to devising their own strategy to occupy the time.
Electricity was the first casualty. One strong breeze and the lights went off, often for days. With a tiny flickering candle light or the kerosene lamp, evenings were dark. From reading to cooking to doing anything, it was a big chore. The quantum of activity reduced all around.
One thing that accompanies every rain is hot food. But there are only so many days that bajji’s could be made. First few rains everyone is enthusiastic. After the third or fourth day the fatigue for the oily food sets in. But the comfort food of hot rice with pickle was an ever green favorite. With the dim lights it was a struggle to cook anything more than rice.
As it was the monsoon the avakaya, or the mango pickle was fresh, only about a month old. One can smell from almost a mile away when the pickle jaadi (or the ceramic container as it is called in telugu) was opened to replenish the daily stock.
Hot rice a big serving of mango pickle, some ghee mixed into piping hot rice. Ahh the smell when the rice meets with the pickle, wish one could bottle it. One could almost smell the mustard powder that was added to the pickle. The heat of the chilli off setting sourness from the mango pieces, what a medley of tastes it was. This was the dinner that warmed the body and the soul inside out shooing away all the chill and dampness of the rain.
Every region, every family, every individual has a comfort food, that brings back the memories of the monsoon magic like nothing else. Some like it spicy and some others like it sweet. Something hot is the underlying factor of course. Irrespective of everything, including the discomfort, the monsoon magic weaves on even to this day.