‘Mitti ittar?’ What in the world is that?’ I hit the reply key on my screen and seconds later another mail arrived.
‘It smells like the first rain. I miss that around here,’ read my brother’s mail.
A few months later when she came visiting us, I accompanied my sister in law to the narrow Chandni chowk streets to look for the ittar shop. We found the fragrance which came close to the real thing but not quite. The fragrance of that first drop hitting the parched land cannot be bottled. It can be stored in some remote corner of your consciousness but not in a fancy hand blown bottle. The tiny vial, however, was enough to remind us of all that we miss when we don’t stop and watch that first droplet disappear in the mud, letting off an aroma that holds in it memories of a different time.
Today as I sat by the window looking at the raindrops gliding off the leaves, I took a deep breath and filled my senses with air redolent of the first rain. The rhythmic pitter-patter was occasionally disrupted by shrieks of the kids jumping about in the puddles and sometimes a loud clap of thunder. The intoxicating fragrance usually lingers for a very little while before the water floods everything – the roads, drains and mostly my home’s water outlets. I decided to sit a little longer before the house-help runs inside with doom written all over his face thanks to his failed attempt to get the drainage working.
Outside, the boys are sitting on plastic chairs in a sorry bid to enjoy the rain. I pity my kids. Their tryst with the first rain is limited to a run in the lawn or a sit out in the porch. For us, however, the first rain meant getting out of the house! If you were lucky that is. Or else, you could end up helping your dad in getting the water out of the house. That, of course, had its own perks in the form of legitimate licensed soaking in the rain and no scolding from mum. But real fun started outside, with building tunnels across moist mounds of sands at construction sites and coming back home with sand pouring out of our pocket and ears. Mum had to thoroughly hose us down before she could decide whether she wanted us back in the house at all or not. The next rain saw us riding on rickety, old bicycles and deliberately going through puddles or slowing down when a car passed by in anticipation of the huge splash it created. If we were lucky enough, we’d get to walk back from school, never missing a single puddle. Mum however had to deal with soaked bags that contained books judicially packed in polybags by her.
They will never know the fun of walking back from school after getting soaked to the last bone and squealing with delight every time water squirted out of the eyelets of the white canvas shoes making a fountain of sorts. The poor things never made fortress in the trenches dug out to lay foundations of new houses. I’d always wait for mum to doze off, on a rainy afternoon, to sneak out and make squishy mud balls in my side of the trench. They made the perfect ammunition to take down the neighbourhood whiny kid.
Making paper boats wasn’t confined to glossy videos of a soulful gazal; paper boats of all colours and sizes could be seen floating around on roads that were as waterlogged then as they are now. Getting caught in unexpected downpour didn’t necessarily result in a bout of sneezes and a stuffed nose or a long complain to mum about the lack of adequate rainwear. It meant getting wet and not taking shelter under the tree or the worn down bus stop. It meant rushing in to catch a movie at Priya Cinemas where the air-conditioning made us violently shiver and then topple a steaming cup of coffee on a friend who actually felt grateful for that. For my boys, the excitement is a fancy cup of hot chocolate after dancing around in the rain for ten minutes. Would they ever know the fun of standing in the rain while cupping a kullad of sickly sweet chai in both hands from the corner tea-stall?
My thoughts are brought to a screeching halt by a dripping kid. ‘What? The floor, Vivaan! Look what you’ve done! Why aren’t you going in to change your clothes?’
‘I was trying to figure out why you were deep breathing…are you all right? Are you mad at something? ‘Cause that’s when you usually count and deep breathe…’
I gave his head a vigorous rub and smiled. ‘Can’t you smell it?’
‘Smell what? Is it the hot chocolate? Did you put in marshmallows?’
‘No silly! The rain. Can you smell it?’
He shook his head dismissively and said, ‘Mum I just played in rain and trust me there is no smell. It must be Dobby.’ The poor dog perked up his ears at the mention of his name, half-expecting a treat.
‘Bhai, can you smell the rain?’ He asked Ishaan who had by now made a puddle of his own on the floor.
‘Rain doesn’t smell. I can smell your stinky head from all the way over here, though. Mum, Please tell him to scrub properly!’
I just smiled and let it pass. No they will probably not enjoy it the way we did but they will surely miss the sweet scent of the first shower someday. They will miss it when they are too old to just lie in the driveway and let the rain wash their face. They will miss it when they are trapped in some meeting in an office with huge glass windows that are airtight. They will miss it when they are somewhere far away from here and holding up an ittar bottle to sniff.
They will miss it when they are too busy to just pause and inhale.
Originally posted at : Of trenches, mud and puddles