Saturday, May 23, 2009

Midsummer Mayhem: storms, broken trees and other such unearthly pleasures

the late bloomer: Rajpur Road, Civil Lines

"The rain fell like applause"

- Signature by Michael Ondaatje (From the Cinnamon Peeler)


Delhi got the sound and light show it deserves.

No. I’m not referring to the one at Red Fort set to Amitabh Bachhan’s baritone or the one at Purana Quila narrated by Om Puri. (Ironic isn’t it – that the fort built in a time of excess gets the decadent voice of Bacchan while the crumbling, deeply neglected Old Fort has its story told by his doppelganger Puri – just a thought)

Coming back to what I was saying. We were treated to three incredible albeit short-lived thunderstorms in the span of two weeks. And what drama it was - certainly worth the wait. Sepulchral clouds on the horizon, swirling dust, winds that made light of even the mightiest Neem and raindrops that felt icy on sun-baked skin. Thunder sounded a preliminary warning and people scurried like ants, looking for cover. The rumble set the stage with a fantastic drum roll. Whooshing gusts of wind threatened to spirit away trees, birds, things and people alike. Lightning that scared the bejesus out of me with its white whip cracking across the night sky. Even hail that fell like marbles out of tin box!

And finally rain. Delicious, smelling-of-earth, soak-you-to-the-bone, redeem-the-month-of-may kind of rain.

But for me the best part is when the grand show is over. The time when the damp air and sweet smells filling it can be imbibed without prejudice. When people (some people at least!) survey in shock and awe, the arboreal carnage across the city. Huge branches, entire trees, piles of leaves, flowers, pods and nests litter the roads. A fitting homage.

I got to take in the sights on my regular rickshaw ride from the metro station back to my house. The road is particularly beautiful winding up from Shamnath Marg flanked by the pristine white façade of the British built Maidens Hotel, rising up towards St. Xavier’s and the Governors residence and finally ending at a junction framed by Oleander and Jarul trees. Near the hotel, a tall eucalyptus tree had been felled by the storm, and a small army of men and women were at work trying to clear the road. Most of the leaves had been turned to mulch by the speeding vehicles. A happy accident in my opinion because the whole place smelled divine – aromatherapy in the most unlikely fashion!

Further ahead, near the beautiful St. Xavier’s school, a massive branch of Neem had broken off. Almost half a tree. As the rickshaw pulled past the giant green bush on the road I caught a glint of steel underneath. A silver Esteem barely visible, seemed to be resting, virtually unharmed under the canopy. The next day the whole thing was gone – stripped for daatun and its medicinal leaves and bark I bet – or for firewood. I remember soaking in a bath of neem leaves when I was down with Chicken Pox as a kid. To my mind, it’s the closest I’ve come to a spa treatment till date. I’m telling you – Cleopatra might have bathed in milk but I’ve had itchy sores healed by a bittersweet broth of leaves.

Anyway, the rickshaw ride had many more sights for me to savour. The purple flowers of Jaarul, magenta Bougainvillea trellis over a wall, the wet red brick building of B.M. GangeSchool and finally the flaming Amaltas (laburnum) tree in my own house compound. When May began, I was worried. The Amaltas tree I loved to watch, was still bare. In the rest of the city, they had already begun to show off their dangling yellow bunches. This one was bald except for a few new shoots. I thought the mindless pruning of its branches by the neighbours had finally been its undoing, as I had often feared. But as it turned out I was being paranoid. It was just a late bloomer. And like all late bloomers, when it finally did come into its own, it outdid all its golden siblings across town. I should’ve known – our family has a real thing for late bloomers.

These things – part of nature’s very own Cirque du Soleil - invoke in me what I imagine to be the closest thing to religious fervour and passion. A constant reminder that it takes so little to lift ones spirits. For me it takes a dash of good weather and a smattering of crushed eucalyptus leaves put together with a burst of yellow laburnum.