Driving to work on an unusually rainy morning, I could not help but remember the single biggest joy of monsoons in my school days; heavy rains meant closure of the school for the day. But the catch was that in those days of scant telephone connectivity, most students did not have a phone and no way they could find out, or be told regarding the school closure. So while some parents would take quick guesses and take what they thought was the appropriate decision (staying away from school), the others would force their kids to walk/cycle to school assuming it would be open. But this misery of the trek in the rains was short-lived when they discovered the school was closed. I have this memory of the Irish-American priest, the popular Father Roberts, standing at the entrance to the school with a dripping umbrella and spreading this cheering news of school closure to the kids. It is another matter that sometimes even with the most torrential downpour, the school would remain open and those who had guessed that the school would be closed would miss the classes. Which, as far as the students were concerned, was most welcome anyway!
Schools and rain brings to mind the raincoat. No school kid’s bag was complete without a rain coat. For some reason few used umbrellas, it was raincoats for most of us. Those who could afford it would use the greenish-yellow Duckback brand raincoats. But for most of us it was the regulation grey plastic affair. I wonder why there were no alternate colours, just a metallic grey. Ok, perhaps a shiny black as well. No yellows or blues or greens. And certainly no floral prints you see nowadays. The raincoat, when dry, would be packed into a polythene bag (a rare commodity those days of paper bags and jholas!). This would be carried in the school bag. If it was raining I was made to don the “coat” over the schoolbag slung on my shoulders, forming a neat camel-like bulge at the back! When we reached school this rain coat was hurriedly wrapped and tucked back into its plastic bag, water and all. The creased, wet raincoat when pulled out later in the day on its return journey home would look like a post-modern Dali; creased along crazy curves and dripping with water! But this was donned anyway. No raincoat was ever complete without the cap. That matching headgear with long, long flaps on the sides to cover the ears. The flaps affixed by metal press-buttons under the chin, sometimes very discomfortingly if the flaps were a little too short. Often the buttons would come un-affixed from their plastic substrate, “safety” pins were used as a substitute or the flap-fixing was completely dispensed with. And there was often the spectacle of the arm piece getting un-“welded” from the torso piece, it was a plastic apparel after all.
The walk back from school on a wet afternoon was a journey by itself. There were enough puddles on the way into which we would jump up and down. Never mind the shoes we were wearing becoming totally soggy. By the time we were half-way home, the wet sock against the shoe would make a squeaky noise which was a source of delight by itself! Cheek-peek, cheek-peek.. and so on it went..! Of course we got admonished on our return home. Considering we had only one pair of black school shoes. And limited pairs of uniforms. The uniforms would be taken care of by some intelligent and dexterous ironing to dry the moisture and get the creases in place, but the shoes were another story. One could not iron shoes, and they remained wet till the morning after. And that necessitated a message from parents to the teacher, making some excuse or the other. “Injured toe” was a common one. With an appropriately “bandaged” toe as the evidence under a pair of slippers the next morning. The teachers would laugh, they knew from years of experience of teaching. And most also had children of my age!!
Then, as they say, the field was open for activities. When we were real kids, sailing paper boats on puddles was a big delight. Paper was sourced from the most easily accessible class notebook! And when we really grew up, the pastime was something more lethal! That sharpened short steel stake which was used for digging garden soil. Two kids would start at a point, turn by turn with this weapon. Each would throw the length of steel on the soft soggy ground to ensure it would impale itself on it. This would go on, turn-by-turn, till someone missed. And then the winner would assign a suitable punishment to the loser. I have an unfortunate permanent reminder of this monsoon game, the stake landed on one of my toes once. The nail’s gone, the pains forgotten, but the scar still remains. With that remains the memories of the Jamshedpur monsoon.
And on the way we enjoyed “catching” those little red velvety insects, I do not know what they are called. Ladybirds? But I am sure they had more picturesque name in Hindi.
What is a monsoon without its distinctive snacks! Onion pakodas of course, but the real treat was the sauteed-in-mustard-oil black gram (kala chana). With a sprinkling of pepper powder and salt. I suppose this is popular only in Bihar. This chana was chewed upon as you watched the rains pouring down! Never mind if bits of it got stuck between your teeth. It was divine! Not to mention the “bhutta”. Not the boiled stuff you get in Bangalore, but the nicely roasted ones! With a generous coating salt administered with a grubby-looking piece of lemon!
Maybe, one day I should declare a rainy day for myself and bunk my office. I will then sit in the balcony, get myself a roasted bhutta and watch the world go by through sheets of rains!