One of my early defining experiences was a night in Delhi back in 1975 or ’76 when an enormous monsoon storm blew the door to the terrace plumb off its hinges, with the sort of demonic roar and attendant terror you’d expect if your airplane suddenly developed a hole in the fuselage midflight. I was three or four years old, and my parents were out doing whatever parents did in the 1970s—wearing flared pants, I imagine, and clinging to lampposts to counter the lift generated by air blowing through their bouffant hairstyles. Anyway they were out, and they didn’t come back for a long, long time. I developed the certain conviction that they were dead, and spent my time squeaking ‘Ram, Ram, Ram’ like a ferret on amphetamines—a rather opportunistic thing to chant given that I was not a believer. Nor, just to clarify, on amphetamines.
The next morning, and ever after, they claimed that they’d merely been delayed by monstrous traffic snarls caused by the rain. I lived in terrified anticipation of the next maelstrom, even though they tried to explain to me the difference between the very rare gale-force wind that had deep-sixed the door, and the common pleasant breeze that might blow at any time. For years thereafter the slightest movement of air sent me rushing to them to ask tremblingly, “Is it a wind or a breeze?”
How I got from this phobic state to all-out adoration of storms is completely beyond me, but I did. Black skies, howling winds, cracking lightning and sheets of rain, trees stripped bare of their leaves, kids flying off their leashes, all this delights me beyond words, especially if I’m indoors, sipping on tea or wine.
I was happy as a pig in muck one evening in the Philippines when a typhoon blew up out of nowhere. Rain like gunfire drowned the city in minutes. The wind whipped the papaya trees to the ground like so many noodles, and threatened to lift the roof off and fly it to Malaysia—a wind so loud that when you stood next to someone and screamed something right into their ear (typically: “Wow, this is really loud”), all they experienced was you getting into their personal space and moving your lips soundlessly.
These days I’m thinking longingly of storms, seeing as how the monsoon is almost over and simultaneously hasn’t yet begun, at least here in Delhi. While Mumbai drowns and Assam declares drought, Delhi has been malingering in a purgatory of insufferable heat and humidity that regularly makes me want to beat myself to death with a straining air conditioner.
Every day for the last two weeks has been a tease—a few more clouds, a bit more wind, a louder grumble in the sky, for just a little longer every day before the sun comes bursting back out and turns up the humidity. Every time I think I’ve caught a glimpse of lightning out of the corner of my eye, it turns out to be just the neighbours, who have been performing mysterious acts of welding on their lawn since the last Ice Age. (I have watched their contractor evolve from Neanderthal to… well, maybe ‘evolve’ is a strong word.)
As I write this, on Wednesday, the sky has finally offered up a tiny little leak, an apology of a rain shower. If by the time this comes out in print this monsoon has regained a bit of lead in its pencil, then bully for us. If not, I’ll keep hoping. As far as I’m concerned, the perfect storm is one that happens.