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     Volume 6 Issue 33 | August 24, 2007 |

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In Retrospect

Dancing in the Rain and Some Stray Thoughts

Azizul Jalil

To be in Dhaka during the monsoon was an experience that I missed for many years. When children were in schools and colleges, the only long vacation for them was in the summer months. Visiting Dhaka with them during July and August was, therefore, the practice. With children out of the nest- the last one moving out in the nineties, wintertime became more convenient for parents to visit the homeland. Dhaka's winter -with rain absent, cool but not too cold weather and full of all varieties of flowers and fruits, was most enjoyable. You could move around and travel easily to the countryside. However, the lack of rain made the city dusty and the mosquitoes made life miserable.

After many years, this time we were in Dhaka with rains pouring down most of the time. A city full of flowers and young plants, which were washed clean of all dust, Dhaka looked quite green. Here and there, you would see yellow Radhachuras, blue and purple Crepe Myrtles, and white and pink Masundas (I believe, Poinsettias of the western world.) The profusely blooming Rangans- pink, white and maroon in colour, were all over the city. With modern skyscrapers and all that and other public and private buildings and yards kept quite well, the city looked to me to be pretty. With the floods at the door, it was not possible to move out to the interior to feast one's eyes with monsoon's true beauty as well as its full fury. Giving a feel of the monsoon in Bengal, Rabindranath had written to a friend, who lived amid the desert in Sindh: “Think of how the rain splashes in from a distance by placing its feet over the waving crop fields; first on the mango orchards at the end of the field, then on the bamboo backwoods; next, every single hut, every village fades out behind monsoon's transparent cover, little girls sitting before huts clap and invite the rain with their songs-ultimately, the downpour captures all land, all forest, all villages into its snare.”

In the early morning, I would sit with a newspaper on a cane chair in the veranda of the apartment of my sister-in-law. The other apartment buildings were close by but smartly designed in a way that allowed the sky to be visible. The tubs and plants around me in the veranda, as well as those hanging in the verandas of the opposite apartments, provided a scenic ambiance. People were trying to create garden-like settings on the upper floors to continue to remain in touch with nature. One did not get the feeling of claustrophobia. Not that one had any choice- carefree, spacious and almost sleepy Dhanmondi of the late fifties to the mid-nineties and later Gulshan, Banani and Baridhara's single family homes (shall I call them mini-mansions?) practically did not exist any more, such was the pressure of continued development on available land. Sitting in the veranda, I would try to glance at the headlines, which these days are often exciting, sensational and full of drama of all kinds. Could I get to my reading? No, very often the rain would interrupt with heavy sound of drums on the large tin roof of the community center next door. I would hear the melody of nature thumping on the bare roof, as if it were a Calypso Band playing wildly in the Caribbean. Time would idly pass by and only a call to breakfast would interrupt my musings. How wonderful are the sights and sounds of nature during the monsoon!

I would recall an incident, which happened one summer more than thirty years ago. We were sitting idly in the veranda with my parents in Eskaton Gardens, as most of the day we did, looking at the driveway and the garden by its side during a visit in the summer. Then came heavy rains and my three boys-aged between 5 and 11, spontaneously jumped up from their seats, took off their shirts and, ran out to the yard to have a shower and a dance of sorts in the rain. It happened so suddenly that before I could react, they were already heavily drenched, enjoying the time of their lives. When a little later they asked me, I allowed them to continue. I was reluctant to spoil their merriment and deprive them of the unusual experience for western city dwellers. My mother was okay with it also-she was ever indulgent about the antics of her visiting grandchildren.

However, my father, then about seventy years old, was greatly concerned that the little boys would catch cold, and worse still, might fall and get head injuries. He asked them to come back to the veranda. The boys would not listen. They protested by saying “father has permitted us.” My father was annoyed- he barked “but I am the father of your father-you should listen to me.” The matter was taking a serious turn. I sensed a mini-rebellion on the part of my boys, which I had to nip in the bud. After all, they had my permission-was that not enough? An obedient son myself, I let my own authority over my children be superseded by my father's obvious higher authority. Referring to grandfather's injunction, I called back my army. Disgruntled, they returned to be dried gently- head, body and feet, by my mother waiting with large towels in her hand. Perhaps from that day they began to appreciate that there was no such thing as unchallenged and absolute authority. It would be good if we all, at a personal and political level, remembered this lesson!

The romantic aspects of the rains have also another side-the destruction and suffering that water often bring to people. Let me recall here my experience as SDO Tangail in 1960-61. Then a subdivision, it was mostly low-lying. During my time, heavy rains came for many days, causing flood and suffering. One morning as I came out into the veranda of the SDO's residence to go out on tour to the affected areas and to distribute Muri, Chira and gur, I found that water was everywhere and the bungalow was like an island, surrounded on all sides by water. The third officer, Siddique, who was to accompany me, hired a small rowboat and lent me a pair of high rubber boots. We went straight from the veranda to the boat and proceeded for the most part of the day with our relief and inspection program. People were on treetops in makeshift 'macahans' (platforms made of bamboo or wood) with most of their precious belongings. Some had also domestic animals with them at the only dry place they had at the time. The only amusing thing in all these was the fact that I could not swim and the accompanying office boy was carrying an inflated tube of a car tire to save me, should any calamity befall his young SDO sahib!

The unending rains during the monsoon profoundly affect the mood of the people. I do not know whether it is peculiar to Bengal or not, Bangali men and women of all ages, looking at the silvery rains, become pensive and engage in sad and at the same time, sweet reflections. One recalls memories of close friends and relations, dead or alive, and pines for the loving company of that other person, wherever he or she might be. At this time, there is poetry and pathos in the moist air, perhaps a longing for the unknown and unattainable.


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