Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet – Roger Miller
Rain had been calling me, for long. There was a lush-green forest. Or a spread of wet paddy fields. I wore a pretty, white-cotton dress. Or red gum boots. A house stood tucked away in the woods. A lover held an embrace. A soaking dream of drenched jubilation.
Here I was with a puffed-up face, just kohl-eyed, setting out in the early morning hour in a small cab, chasing that dream, the monsoon. There were no cheerful gum boots or a sultry petite dress, but a sturdy manly raincoat and an umbrella for comfort and coziness. And it started to rain, as I got into a corner of the car, with my bag pack and essentials.
The road sparkled, the Western Ghats dripped with fresh foliage, a blurred mingling of grey and green. The tarmac sliced through wild tall grass, plateaus, tunnels, mist and clouds. The electric wires drew an elongated line in the sky, parting and converging, purring a current to scattered houses and the in-between urban sprawl. The mountains held life and streaks of rivulets after the rains. The clouds descended on the last stretch of the road to Matheran. The ghats stood closer, the waterfalls gushed by the roadside in a profuse spray, and the road wound uphill to a wall of resplendent monsoon bloom. A forest of tall trees, stood aloof, with its branches and leaves and earth-laded floor of freshly sprung plants.
A cluster of cars and human voices told me that I was at Dasturi Naka, the car park, from where I was to figure my way to the town. A resolute queue of the weekend crowd from the neighbouring cities, stood at the ticket counter – husbands, wives, children, mothers, fathers, college mates, weekend dates. I nudged my way to the small entry gate to be sent back to the ticket counter. I fetched a crumpled note with my wet hands, to announce a “single” purchase. The rain came down in beautiful rhythmic pace. I packed all my belongings in a single bag pack, wore my raincoat, held my umbrella and stepped on soft gorgeous brick-red soil.
The forest opened after the gate. I saw a winding mud road amidst the green. I gasped at the line of muscular horses and man-pulled rickshaws lined up for the unfit and lazy. I contemplated the (now) slightly heavy bag on my shoulders, and the walk ahead. It was a kilometer and a half walk through the forest, humid with fog and rain.
The trees were slender, the branches delicate and laden with leaves. The sky had turned into a canopy of dark-green expanse. The red earth held my feet. The rock-lined pathway had a carpet of powdered moss, fresh leaves and flowers in a shade of soft pink, like miniature tulips, upside down. A broken log of wood lay abandoned, a sculpted work of art, on free display. Ferns bloomed, in intricate cutouts. The dead leaves had turned pale, and then, charcoal black. The world wore the sheen of fresh rain water.
Trotting horses with grown-ups and children invaded the numb silence in my head, the clogged ears listening to my heart, beat. A gentle layer of sweat opened the pores of my skin, just as the monsoon revives the dormant hills. The mist, held my thoughts, and carried it, oh so gently.
A half-hour later, I was at the doorstep of Springwood Heritage. There it stood some giant steps away, enveloped in fog. My simple room with pale-white sheets, a desk with plastic chairs, side table, cupboard with additional half-torn blanket, looked forlorn but the cottage door opened to a front verandah of trees, mist and a garden of colourful plants. The teenage hotel boy attending on me had a lively face, was chirpy as well courteous, and wore a small-town boy appeal. He advised me to close my door in the company of aggressive monkeys, who did not hesitate to enter rooms, rummaging for food.
The rain was thrashing against the tin roof now, and I had no choice but to stay inside, and wait for it to ease. I piled up the stern pillows, spread the blanket, and shut my eyes to the downpour. My clothes were wet, and the mattress felt cold and damp too. I unpeeled to put them to dry and took out my second pair of clothing. I segregated – dry pair inside, wet pair outside. The shoes stayed soaked.
I got back into my wet clothes, rolled up the bottom wet portion, wore the shoes and the raincoat and stepped out. A row of shops made up the market, along the railway track from Neral, now undergoing repair. A number of tea shops and snack counters alternated between display of rain gear – plastic hats, poncho-style raincoat, and rubber shoes/chappals. I looked at old houses with peeled-off paint, moss-covered walls. The bigger ones had turned into hotels, the far bigger, into heritage stays. There was little known of the original owners or the history of the property.
I walked through isolated stretches of the forest, a bit haunting at places, and kept watch over the daylight. I had set out to see the far end of the town that had the Charlotte lake and the Pisharnath temple by its side. I asked for directions, and froze as I entered a more dense jungle, with just fog in sight. I considered retreating back, till I heard a family (from Dubai) come that way. I introduced myself and asked if I could walk alongside them. Charlotte was a muddy self, surreal in the drifting mist. A wind played with our rain gear, making the child from Dubai giggle on his day out.
I headed back in urgency (with no electricity on trails, it is easy to get lost). I also longed for a cup of tea, soft spicy vada pav, and had chocolate fudge to take back home. The gentle V. G. Kadam (Kadam’s Delight Chikki, New Shopping Centre) held the morning routine of making fudge that he stored in the refrigerator. I sampled spoon-full to finally buy two small packets of walnut fudge. I also stopped to buy leather Kolhapuri chappals. The old affable shopkeeper (Royal Footwear) made his recommendations to extend it to the best stay options in the city. Also, suggesting that I should buy an old house (rupees 8 lakh, he said), and use it for occasional stay with my family and friends. I laughed at the adoption, and went across the road for a cup of chaha and vada pav.
I sat at the busy cheap restaurant. My lips quivered with sips of sweet hot tea and bites of spicy potato filling. It felt like a closing dialogue of sorts on my tiny, rickety table, the end of another travel episode.
I stepped out into the rain. Unlocked my heavy wooden hotel door. Washed the dirt off my feet. Tucked in bed to naked (by David Sedaris). The rain was a thunder now. But in all untold generosity, it (the rain) had eased and come pouring in perfect synchronicity, to allow me views, walks, conversations, pictures… to an awakening and deep slumber.
It was me and the rain. A constant.