This post is not about books. Let us call it an answer to, “What do you do other than read?” – an annoying question that is often popped my way. Last week I took a much needed day-out – a tiny road trip to a place called Mahabaleshwar, about a three hour drive from home, with many stops along the way. Mahabaleshwar is a hill station that attracts loud partying crowds through the weekends so we went on a Thursday, desperately hoping to have it all to ourselves. A good idea, it was quiet and soothing. I always have all sorts of fun with my mother no matter where we are but the rain made this day most special.
Lately I have had a curious obsession with references of rain in books. And there aren’t as many rainy good-times in literature as I expected. No kissing, dancing, playing scenes. It’s all power, destruction or simple hassles. Disappointing, really. Last Thursday, it rained quite a bit and the whole time there we were walking through clouds. It was dreamy and very fairy tale. The mist made it nearly impossible to take pictures, but I tried.
Rain is such a nature’s prank. Half of my state has landslide-causing downpours right now even as the other half suffers a drought. And even in the most urban of places, we can only pretend to have it under control. Roads turn slippery, wind upturns umbrellas and puddles leap up to splash trousers, coolly impervious to fancy raincoats and gum boots. The child in me delights in watching a sudden shower make prim grown-ups lose composure, hopping over puddles, grabbing at each other, arms flailing for balance, a screaming bunch.
A favourite childhood pretend-game was jumping around in muddy red puddles with friends, calling for help, a group of pixies who had fallen into cups of chai. Thank you, Enid Blyton! Of course, the romance of rain for me may simply find its roots in iconic Bollywood rain-dances (worth a watch for the fun of it if you have never seen any) but I think there is more to it than a six-year-old’s choice of fandom.
I read a quote somewhere about how rain alters everything it falls on. And it does wash away both literal grime and figurative – leaving us with that peculiar scent of churned mud and humid air, and trees that have cast off their ashy olives and jades for a lush shimmery hue, and if we just embrace the water splashing on us, a thoroughly relaxed mood. It also gives an excuse to stay in and watch this transformation, with a steaming cup of tea to fight off the cold, revelling in the comfort and guise of control. More power to you if you extend the comfort to that neighbourhood stray, there is no thank you like a vibrating purr.
I found a cute, silly little rhyme by Charles Bukowski that I must quote here,
“I think that the world should be full of
cats and full of rain, that’s all, just
cats and rain, rain and cats, very
nice, good night.”
Another highlight of our day-trip were the seven temples we saw along the way, possibly more than I have visited in the entire year. My interest in religion is mainly mythological. Hindu mythology has all the charms of the Greek and about ten times its scope. We have all manner of gods – powerful, weak, blue, elephant-headed, anthropomorphic sun and moon deities, who all have multiple earthly incarnations, egos, clashes and feisty goddess-wives. They have many demons to fight and are accompanied by everyone from angels and saints to ginormous talking eagles, apes and bulls.
The bull called Nandi is the vehicle of the great god Shankar or Shiva. He is one of my favourite creatures in mythology. He stands as gatekeeper outside every Shiva temple, but is deliberately poised facing the shrine. First disciple, then guard. In more intricately sculpted temples, you can see both Nandi’s mellow, wise eyes and powerful musculature in the stone – a juxtaposition that really captures the spirit of a gentle but strong bull. Sadly, I can only find photos from one temple in which no one has photobombed my Nandi.
At the main temple at Mahabaleshwar, I read the fascinating legend that gave the place its name – the story of a mighty demon named Mahabal who gave up his immortal life in exchange for the privilege of sharing his eternal resting place with his god. And the compromise made him godly too, it seems. They had even put up an English version of the story. I could post it, but the translation is clumsy at best. The temple is some five hundred years old, while the idol inside claims a life of perhaps more than a thousand years.
Road trip, however small, means awesome street food. As someone whose vacation at home is on the brink of its end, I jumped at this chance to gorge on everything homey I could find. I give you, a collage of some of our colourful choices – onion fritters, strawberry with cream which is a Mahabaleshwar-speciality, a spicy curry with bread called misal and that steaming cup of tea that we know adds an extra flavour to rain.
Phew, that’s quite a long post for someone apparently only used to writing about books. I hope to branch out more often on Tabula Rasa, rather than trying to keep two blogs. Meanwhile, I would love to read your thoughts on rain, food, mythology and such days-out!