In the background, I hear the insistent drumbeat of raindrops outside the window. It is a summer afternoon in Calcutta. The stifling heat of the morning has given rise to the “kal-boishakhi” — seasonal downpour — of the afternoon. It takes me back to my childhood days.
I spent many happy summer vacation days at my grandparents’ house. It was a stately building near Lake Market, built in the late 1800’s in the traditional style. The floors were made of cool black and red stone. The windows had wooden shutters. The bathroom was far away from the sleeping quarters. The balcony, with its wrought-iron work, ran along the length of the building.
My grandfather had an upright chair in the balcony, and I would perch on the arm of the chair as he sat in it, demanding “just one more story”. In between stories, he would run down to the market half a dozen times each day for supplies so that my grandmother could make me delicious snacks on demand. I was a much petted and spoilt little grandchild.
After all the activity of the morning, the afternoon was reserved for nap-time. That is, my grandparents would nap, and I would disrupt their sleep. Eventually, I grew up enough to leave them alone, and afternoons turned into a delicious solitary time for me. I would carefully select a book from their in-home library, and settle myself onto the broad windowsill of the living room. I left the windows wide open even when the rainwater blew in on its wings of the monsoon winds, the winds for which I had been named. In this way, I read an eclectic collection of literature, from Pearl S. Buck’s “The Good Earth” to George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, to a backdrop of thundering rain.
Eventually, the rains would stop, and the heat of the day would rise up again, this time mixed with the sweet smell of damp earth, and the bell of the ice-cream man would ring out in the street, a siren call to me.