Sunday, February 5, 2012

Letters from Portugal: Monsoon Nostalgia

A couple of years ago, when I announced to a Portugal-familiar friend that I was soon to leave for Portugal, arriving there in September, he looked at me as if I had lost my mind. ‘But why September? You do realize it’s going to be raining cats and dogs then?’ He had a point, as, captured in the Portuguese proverb,’Chuvas verdadeiras, em Setembro as primeiras’, September marks the end of the Portuguese summer, and as if on clockwork, it pours come the first weeks of September.

This letter is not going to be about the Portuguese summer, there will be other times for that happy season. Though terribly out of sync with the calendar, this letter is to be about the autumn rains of September that draw watery curtains down on the holiday month of August. For a couple of years now,  while the rest of Portugal  sighs, folds away their summer clothes and begins to air their winter clothes,  the south Asian peasant heart that beats in my chest begins to trill its monsoon song. 

If you have invested a sufficient amount of energy in those romantic poetic tropes, that celebrate the weariness of the Indian summer and the dramatic break of the monsoon, then you know that once one is so invested, there is no way you can suffer the monsoon without also looking forward with increasing expectation for the monsoon to slake both earth and our fevered brains. The drilling beat of the monsoon rains is as much part of the experience as the cool that the sheets of water bring.

Sometimes I wonder if I would ever be able to encounter Portugal’s autumn rains on terms other than sub-continental. The sweet coolness that these rains bring after the not-to-be-laughed-at baking  summer afternoons evoke in this turned-towards-the-Atlantic-planted-garden sweet memories of monsoons in Bangalore. The rains are still warm, but the caress of the breeze cool and soft to the touch, and one could still run around with one’s shirt sleeves rolled up, the dread of heavy winter woolens still far, far away. Indeed if one is lucky, one can also smell the very same eucalyptus, that were planted as mistakenly in Portugal as they were across India, and especially in Bangalore.

Encountering the rains (Portuguese or otherwise) in a South Asian manner also involves greeting them with song.  From out of the internet and personal archives then come the Malhar and the Des raags, the songs of Khusro, and the sawaan geet of the North. To these South Asian choices however a couple of mood and monsoon appropriate fados have also now made their way. And as the rain lashes down, drenching the earth, saudades is reinvented to mean not the South Asian’s longing for a Portuguese metropole, but a Portuguese metropolitan’s longing for South Asia.

Romance however can only take you so far. Some hours of the music, more than a couple of weeks of the rain, the setting in of winter, and the rains begin to lose the charm with which they flounced in at the start of September.  It is then, that this tropical South Asian begins to clamour for the sun, yearns to be buffeted by the warm winds that coast off the Arabian sea, and thinks to himself; ‘Yes, it is about time we bought that ticket back home for Christmas.’

(A version of this post was first published in the O Heraldo dtd 5 Feb 2012)

1 comment:

NadineisthatU said...

Oh, joy, joy, joy. To know and smell the connection with the rain, and the sound of flowing water, and ducks everywhere.
Because of my multiple schlerosis, I can only go out when it is overcast. Of course, 'foul weather' has always been the most exciting to me, but 'rainy seasons' are for getting out and smelling better, and being able to look up without being blinded. But I always loved it, long before. Mother and daughter and a pair of umbrellas can go anywhere, especially out to lunch, yes?