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It was my first experience of that awe-inspiring force of nature – the Monsoon and its annual, passionate affair with the Arabian Sea. Ms Monsoon flounced in on smoke-grey clouds shot with the gold and corals of a fast-fading sun. Even that celestial superstar turned and ran when Monsoon bore down on Bombay.
I took one look at the clouds and decided, “I am not going to let those dull grey clouds get me down.”
Off to Colaba I went, walked into the first Monsoon-is-coming-wala shop and bought a shiny red raincoat with bright red wellingtons to match. Red Riding Hood on a Bombay street! “Haha” I said, laughing at the storm. “Come down as hard as you like, I am ready to tackle you!”
Monsoon let fly her tempestuous passion on the hitherto languid sea. Waves seethed in ecstasy, frothing and pounding the seashore. Water rushed back up sewers, blew manhole covers and flooded the streets near Bombay Central, where I lived.
Up in Colaba, on higher ground, I had no idea of this treachery of the water closer to home. I waited, a big smile on my face, wondering why everyone looked so glum! This is magnificent, I thought and caught the big red BEST (Bombay Electric Supply and Transport) bus that would take me home. Three stops before mine, the bus driver refused to go any further.
“How will I get home?” I pleaded with him.
“Not my problem,” he replied.
By now the grey clouds were beginning to intrude on my mood.
There’s only that long that a red raincoat and red wellingtons can cheerily defy a Bombay monsoon. I was determined to continue smiling as I set out at as brisk a pace as wellingtons-squelching-against-a-pavement-flowing-with-rainwater would allow.
The closer I got to home the deeper the water got. Soon the water level rose hip high, the wellingtons weighed me down as they filled with water and the raincoat floated around my waist – a red stain in the murky water around me. I had to drag my feet, as by now the weight prevented me from taking the wellingtons off.
When I finally reached home, the ground floor of my building had water sloshing in through the door. I sat on the steps and dragged those wellingtons off, tipping them over to empty them of the filth of the streets outside. I should have let them float away.
I kept them both. The red wellingtons stood for a whole year on a mat drying out and were eventually tossed. The red raincoat was worn only occasionally. Reminders that no one tackles a Bombay monsoon with rainwear created in the west.
They were replaced by the only practical wear: rubber flip-flops and a black umbrella.
And what did Monsoon say to me? ”I shall decide what you wear,” and the echo of her laughter rumbled as the grey clouds rolled. She was the only one who wore diamonds flashing in her hair, lighting the sky and chasing away the colour.
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Click to see: Books by Rohini Sunderam.