When you have lived all your life in a place, you are expected to have become accustomed to its climate. Not me. Then again, I guess I am not alone. For, no matter how long you may have lived in Delhi; its temperature of 47° Celsius in the peak of summer would seldom spare even veterans from the heat stroke. That is when Delhiites begin to squint out of their windows awaiting the arrival of the meghasandesh that would usher in the monsoons.
In Kerala, it is said that one can hear the arrival of the rains from a distance. This is because of the thick canopy of trees where the rains hit first, and the sound of the rain splattering against the foliage is heard before they actually hit the ground for us to see.
Sitting in my furnace-like room in Delhi, when it would suddenly darken due to a cloud-ar eclipse, sometimes I have been fooled into wondering if I could hear the arrival of rains as in Kerala. The peculiar splattering sound makes me dart to the window no doubt, but then I return with no signs of rain and wondering if I am hallucinating after all. The splattering sound persists, clearly the sound of heavy rain that falls steadily on the ground. With ears cocked I follow the sound leading me further into my house. And ah! I have reached my kitchen.
Mum is cooking, and it is the frying sound that deceived me into believing that the rain gods had descended. That is when I started noticing each time she fried something, the uncanny resemblance of the spluttering of the oil to the splattering of raindrops. The sound of mustard seeds/curry leaves/fish/chopped onions/ginger-garlic sizzling in oil on the kitchen stove is incredibly similar to music of the falling rain. The sizzling and fizzing is equally melodic to the ear, as to the nature lover. And to equal it, instead of the petrichor, you get to luxuriate in appetising aroma.
Rains and hot spicy food, along with the indispensable steaming cup of chai have become a distinctive part of the monsoon culture of India. You will scarcely find a soul who does not like to cuddle up with a ‘cutting’ and a plate of ‘garma-garam’ pakodas, samosas or at least Maggi in the wet season. While the tea remains the same, its accompaniments vary across the country. Crisp pakodas with fillings of any variety imaginable, samosas and aloo tikkis are the ‘hot’ favourites in Delhi and Punjab. Mumbai opens itself to bhutta/makka topped with melting butter roasted fresh on the coals. Kanda poha, vada pao and pao bhaji remain popular throughout the year anyway; but become more endearing at this time of the year. Chennai finds solace in their mouth-watering bajjis and filter kaapi. Bengalis love to relish their garam chaa with peyaaji and mouthwatering rolls. Kebabs are never out of favour in Lucknow, but after the searing heat, the likes of shami kebab, seek kebab, reshmi kebab and galouti kebab seem to have a divine flavour in the cool monsoon breeze. Bangalore dances in the rain after a plate of hot vada-sambar, paper roasts, bonda or masala puris. Small tea-shops and households in Kerala resound with demands of appam with stew and hot favourites mutton curry or chicken and beef fry.
Not to forget the humble chai, when even the non-connoisseurs agree to experiment with their tastes to try out varieties of masala chai, adrak chai, elaichi chai, etc. In India, the chai seems to acquire a more befitting choice as the preferred monsoon beverage, edging out over coffee.
No wonder then, that Monsoon should be accorded the status of a festival in India. It is most awaited and wildly celebrated with dancing and bringing people together out on the streets. What completes it is its own monsoon delicacies that are prepared with great fervour in all households and street shop eateries. It is the time when diet freaks and nutrition fanatics, I am sure, cheat on their strict routines. Monsoons are famous for its romance, with lovers, writers, poets and the solitary. Yet, this romance remains incomplete without the inextricable love affair with the culinary.
It has been raining since morning, and has stopped just now. The rumblings of the thunder that were there in the sky sometime back are now in my stomach. Time for me to go make some rain in my kitchen.