Rain in a War Zone

Amit Sengupta

The white, vicious, inevitable heat arrived in concealed slow motion, like a rattlesnake in an unwinding desert with no visions or hallucinations or illusions of an oasis, slithering and gliding into the stark, starched, scorching sunlight of the morning-noon, post-noon white light, moving inside the eyelids and the white of the eyes, inside hot winds inside the shirt, into the dry skin of desire bereft of desire, thoughtless, soulless, moist-less, inhuman, without qualities, in an annual repetition of trapped imprisonment and Sisyphean condemnation. Don't ask me why it shuts off sweet memories, as in a war zone: the smell of raw mangoes in the courtyard, the blue mosquito net under a starry sky on a terrace which moves into a zigzag of terraces, the little comic books of Betaal with a ghost on the king's shoulder in an eerie graveyard, phantom in his secret cave with Gurran, the clothes hanging on the wire, the tinkle of mother's bangles, the sound of the handpump water, the scary nocturnal ghost stories, the sound of old, magical, melodious music on the Urdu service of All India Radio. 

The heat becomes intangible like nuclear radioactivity in silence and solitude, visible and invisible, blocking off the wet whistle in the dark, camouflaging in a thin layer of transparent shield the shadow of the rain shadow, the song of the road, corner of shady crevices, staircases of treasured games, colours of flowers, shade of the trees, green of the leaves. It eliminates poetry with its dried-up humidity, it makes the tongue go dry and turns you speechless, it is against adultery or poetry, the sweet, salty, tangy fantasies of adolescence and youth.
 
Oh, this heat, it's a war machine, it kills with its touch and it is relentless, without respite, like a flowing river becoming a dead, deadly, quagmire of poison. Like the rotting drain called Yamuna inside the heart of heartless Delhi.

And yet, there are flames in the eyes and there are flames in the forests, defying the logic of this white heat, painting a kaleidoscope of magnificent colours in the brown, parched earth with the flames of the blooming blood red-orange-vermillion flowers of the forests of Adivasi Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The bougainvillea without fragrance, with its lovely, addictive synthesis with all its neighbourhood trees and shrubs, a parasitic resilience of paperless papery beauty, mixing with a million greens and browns, fluttering and floating against the heat. The Gulmohar lines the trees, moving into the blue of the sky like an unrequited lover, and even when it is dark and windless and sultry, and you feel lonely like the evening star in the sky, the flowers radiate colour and beauty, transcending the street, becoming the street, forever majestic. 

And the Amaltas, ah, like yellow gems, emerald necklaces, pearls from the deepest of oceans, corals of the creeks, precious stones of mountain streams, sea-shells of distant echoes, in their sudden arrival in summer as curtain-raiser in the hills and in the plains, spreading a candid canopy of lucid, shameless, yellow desire unleashed, outside suffering or the silence of suffering, more beautiful than the most beautiful women of the different geographies on earth, more romantic than the most romantic moment of revelation, again an ephemeral visitor, in sensuous defiance of this murderous summer of heat with its sinister long knives which can drive you insane. 

The flowers and green and brown and the slow fragrance of the bark, bud, butterflies restore the sanity of our Fukushima minds, obsessed with the meaningless excitement of endless babble on television and elsewhere, the dubious, decadent seductions of fame, money, infamy, the vicarious voyeurism of relentless success and artificial sex, famous parties, literary fests and book launches, famous faces on glossy mag covers, famous success stories with a shallow hole inside the soul of a body destined to rot. Already rotting, like an ageing flop star jumping up and down in a cash-rich cricket match.

And then arrives lightning with the clouds. And then arrive the clouds with lightning. A simmering, sudden tempest. First drops of moist redemption. Smell of earth after the first miracle shower of life-giving magic. It becomes darker. The twilight sun becomes incandescent, vermillion. The birds start chirping. The green of the leaves sway in relief. Evening moves into night. A slow, sensuous intoxication revisits. 

I shut my eyes. And all the memories of past and future drench my body and soul. Like a flood of hail and rain in an open-to-sky courtyard.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JUNE 2011