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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Monsoon

"The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain." 
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Monsoon is an odd time to travel, especially when you have to travel bag and baggage. In my case, I have to literally shift my base for work almost every three years and the timing invariably coincides with monsoon.
 
We got transferred to Kolkata in June 2008 when it was peak monsoon time. I had a tough time getting used to the erratic behavior of the rain-fall in Kolkata. When indoors one would not realize when it rained and when it stopped. Happened to me many times! I also suffered because many times as clothes that were hung for drying outside got wet and I had to re-wash the same. Sometimes I was surprised to see that the front balcony, where I was standing taking in the view of the lake, was absolutely dry, while the balcony in the backside of the house was getting drenched by rain. . No, I am NOT exaggerating. Once it so happened that a mad windy storm lashed the trees and houses in the place we stayed, Kalikapur to be precise. At the same time a friend of mine who was on his way to visit me from about 10 kms from my place wished it would rain as it was so hot that day! I thought he was joking and when I told him about the stormy rain that was going on at my place. He couldn’t believe it and assumed I was joking. Only when he reached my place fighting the storm, he agreed that it was a crazy experience.

This monsoon, we have got transferred to Mumbai. Mumbai is a different experience altogether, since the day I came (May 29, 2011 to be more precise). The first few days it was terribly hot, in fact hotter than Kolkata. Yes, I had a concept that Kolkata is the hottest city in India after Chennai. But, I felt there is a city in-between, it’s Mumbai. Thankfully the house we have settled in has air-conditioning in every room. On June 2, monsoon set in, five days earlier than the expected time. I never understood how people can clock these natural phenomenons and most of all, seasons! Anyway, there was respite from the heat. Few heavy showers felt good. Though I was not venturing out much initially, apart from unavoidable work, after a couple of weeks, it got boring. I wanted to go out and find some friends. 

The monsoon was getting crazier as it developed momentum. It would rain even when it is absolutely sunny outside. Sometimes, I didn’t realize when dawn broke. It would be so dark, as if there were several hours for dawn to break. The rains are like the waves of the Arabian Sea here. It comes and it goes. Everyone carries an umbrella regardless of what the weather is. You never know when it will start pouring. Learning from others, I carry an umbrella too, all the time, whenever I go out these days. 

Let me share an interesting incident that happened with me some days back. That day, I was home alone and I ran out of hard cash. So, I had to go and withdraw some cash from a nearby ATM. The climate was pleasant and I went out on foot. Tried three ATMs, all were either out of service or had some link failure. First I went to the nearby ICICI Bank ATM of Bandra branch. It was out of service. There was another local bank ATM nearby and I went there. A girl was already punching the keys and I waited for her to leave. It was taking way too long than expected and I noticed that the girl was getting restless too. I enquired as she looked worried. I asked, if there was any problem with the machine! Before she replied, I saw the screen and it was showing “Your transaction is being processed”. I said, “Oh, it’s taking too long ha?” She said, “Yes” with a sad smile. I wondered, “What if the money comes out once you leave the machine?” She said, “Exactly! I don’t know what to do now!” While we were talking, the machine screen displayed “Transaction failed”. She thanked God and hinted me if I wanted to try. I said, “No, I don’t want to risk it.” By then, it started drizzling and I went out in search of another ATM nearby. I took out the umbrella and started walking on the pavement. Meanwhile, the girl entered a shop. Instead of walking cluelessly, I decided to ask a security guard sitting by a shop door, if there is any other ATM nearby. Thankfully he knew and guided me the way.  reached the Standard Chartered Bank ATM where a girl was already inside while two boys were waiting outside. The rain had meanwhile evolved from a drizzle to a downpour. I joined the queue. The girl inside took longer than required and to everybody’s disappointment, the ATM guard hung a board on the door where it was written “Out of service”. Dang, now what?! I asked the guard if there is any other ATM nearby. He pointed out to the SBI ATM on the opposite side of the road. When I was about to cross the road to go to the SBI ATM, that girl I met in the second ATM said “Hi!” I responded and smiled. She asked, “This one’s not working too?” I sad, “Sadly, yes.” She asked, what are you gonna do?” I pointed out the ATM across the road and said I am going there. She asked, “Can I please borrow your umbrella? I forgot mine in a shop yesterday.” I agreed to share. We both crossed the road and saw a lot of people waiting outside the ATM. Since it was impossible to stand outside with so little space and such heavy rain, we both entered the empty space inside the ATM, where one girl was already trying her luck with the machine. (I wondered why I was seeing girls in every single ATM struggling to withdraw money!) We were wondering if this one’s working. Thankfully, it was. One South Indian guy made some “hu” kind of noise and I realized he was trying to say something to me. I asked, “Is it your turn after her?” He nodded. I said, “No problem, you go, do your thing”. I waited. He called for his friend and both entered the ATM room and kept withdrawing. The door to the room from another side opened. Later we realized it was the bank’s side of the entrance. Two men, seemingly employees of the bank, entered the ATM room and said, “Money is over in the ATM and we need to refill it”. They started closing the road side door of the ATM. We were both inside the ATM already. The girl looked worried. I asked the banker if we can withdraw some money at least, as all the ATMs in the area were out of order. He asked her how much she wanted to withdraw. She said thousand. He asked me, I said I need at least two thousand. Meanwhile, the south Indian men were done with their withdrawal and I saw them taking handful of five hundred rupee notes in their hands. I doubted my luck! Still wanted to try, I asked the girl to withdraw. She could withdraw her thousand. The bankers said, "You won’t get thousand rupee notes and hundred rupee notes". I just needed some money in hand, so I said it wouldn’t matter. While I was withdrawing money, the girl was not leaving even after she was done withdrawing the money. The bankers told her to leave from the other door which was through the bank premises. She was adamant. Her argument was that she didn’t know that exit and she wouldn’t go that way. She wanted to use the door she came in from. The men said one of them will accompany her to the other exit door. She refused. I realized she was scared. So, I said, “I am done, wait. You can go with me.” She readily agreed. We both came out of the ATM through the bank premises and through a dark pathway we reached the main road. The rain stopped by then and she asked me which way I was going. After knowing her destination, we realized we had to go in two opposite directions. So we said bye to each other and left. The strange thing is, I didn’t even ask her name, neither did she! 

I found out that there are also a few positive things about monsoon in Mumbai. Apart from many tiny things, the major thrill is a drive in the Bandra Worli Sea Link when it is pouring. Oh what a wonderful experience! It is taking time for me to get used to the place and people. I know it will take some time and monsoon is the best time for me to take time out to contemplate and let the experience sink in. I am still in my buffering time.


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