Walking in the Rain

September 1, 2008

I hadn’t had an afternoon off for a while; I was supposed to get one every weekend, but it doesn’t always work out that way. So this weekend, I was determined to get away, at least for a couple of hours. Saturday didn’t work out for various complicated reasons, so it had to be Sunday.

Lunch at Eden Park is not really conducive to anything other than an afternoon snooze, but I made a Herculean effort after getting home and left before the sleep managed to ensnare me. Ostensibly, my goal was to buy a large number of ring folders so I could spend the next several weeks filing away my papers methodically and systematically, as the income tax audit had revealed that they were anything but. But that was more of an excuse than a just cause for leaving the house; the real reason, of course, was, as always, just to get a break from home and kids for a bit.

It’s just as well that I had decided that hell and high water would not deter me, because high water was descending soon enough and hell pretty much described the state of the roads as the water level rose.
Umbrella in one hand and ring folders in the other, I trudged through the downpour, without much hope of staying dry for long. I was thinking of a previous and most memorable experience of walking in the rain. That was in Ladakh.

One day, we spent about 8 hours and 15 km in a steady downpour. I would hardly describe it as beautiful; and Amit was not in good spirits, so I had a task on my hands just keeping him going; but looking back, I have to admit it was one hell of an experience. (Of course, it was a terrible year in Ladakh, with unprecedented floods, and our trek ended with Amit’s father sending out the Army and the CBI to search for us… but that’s another story, and a very long one.)

And there were other memories – of rain and slush and mud mixed with dung, calf-deep and black as night and more slippery than an oiled eel; of solitude and companionship and nights alone in my tent at high altitudes and cold places; of nights spent awake and shivering and hoping the rain would not find a leak in my tent, and knowing that even if I stayed dry, others in neighbouring tents would not be so lucky; of wet shoes and cold feet and a fresh set of warm and dry socks and a cozy sleeping bag that has somehow avoided getting soaked; and so much more.

Repeatedly, over the course of many wet treks, I came to realize how important it is to keep one’s feet and crotch dry. And how much effort one is willing to expend towards this end. And, most importantly, how life becomes so much easier and less worrying once you give up on this and resign yourself to even these all-important regions of your body being cold and wet.

Sure enough, in the brief Bangalore downpour, my shoes were soon soaked through and I stopped stepping carefully to avoid the fast-flowing streams by the edges of the road. My jeans were wet at the bottom and I could feel the dampness inching up, so I stopped worrying about the passing vehicles splashing me. My upper body was still dry, thanks to the variety of bags I had saddled and draped around me and the umbrella held low over my head. But by far the more important function of the umbrella was to hide my face from the masses of people crowding under bus stops or squeezing flat against walls in an effort to stay dry – if they had seen the broad grin plastered on my face, they might have thought that I was completely crazy.

As I turned into the apartment complex, just for a moment a complete calm descended on the universe. There was no traffic on the road, not another person in sight, the trees and buildings were absolutely still and even the dogs and birds were in hiding, so there was no movement at all except the steady falling of the rain, and no sound other than that of the falling rain. Just for a moment, I felt that wonderful sense of alone-ness and calm that’s normally so impossible to find in the city and that repeatedly lures me to the remoter parts of the Himalayas. Now, with the twins, I wonder when – or whether – I’ll ever have a chance to find those quiet places again.

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