Monday, July 28, 2008

Monsoon Flashback

Yesterday, I had a sudden reminder of what it feels like to live in the midst of monsoon season. The irony is, this happened before yesterday's monsoon-like storms. In the middle of the afternoon, it got very, very dark. Then the trees in the woods behind the cottage began waving wildly. (I was sure at least one would come toppling down.) And then the rain began. It took me a bit too long to realize that the rain wasn't just coming down, but coming in sideways through the windows. I ran around the house, followed in hot pursuit by the cats, attempting to close as many windows as I could before things got too wet. It was a bad storm--many trees and telephone poles down and streets flooded. Even though the storm itself didn't last that long, the thunder and rain remained for much of the afternoon, and now, almost 24 hours later, my telephone line is still crackly.

But my monsoon flashback had come before all that. I've been in India on the edges of monsoon season many times, but I've only lived through one full monsoon season, the summer of 1994 in Delhi. I'd managed to avoid the worst of the June heat by spending 3 weeks with a friend in the mountain village where she was doing her anthropology fieldwork. I got back to Delhi at the end of June, just after the rains had begun. The temperature dropped dramatically--from well over 100 to the 90s--but the humidity remained close to 100%. After a few weeks back in Delhi, I left again, for 10 days or so in July, for a trip to Bombay and Pune.

When I returned, I was horrified by my apartment. When it had been closed up for 3 weeks in June, it had been fine, but closed up for 10 days during the early monsoon was a different story. Everything was dank and damp, and there was mold, not only on the walls but in my shoes. I don't know why the mold in my shoes seemed so awful, but it did, especially because it seemed like it would be months before they could dry out all the way. It felt like an insult, the mold in my shoes. Not that I liked mold on my walls, but at least I didn't have to wear those. (I don't know if Tevas were around then or not, but if they were, I didn't have them and spent much of that summer in a pair of cheap blue flip flops, easily cleanable and mold-free.)

Flash forward to yesterday, almost exactly 14 years later. I was cleaning my kitchen. One wall is all windows, several of which are open all the time. And on the floor, in front of those windows, is a boot tray on which many pairs of shoes sit, and a little shoe rack, where there are more shoes. You can tell where this is going, can't you? I was taking the shoes off the tray so I could wipe it off and shake it outside, and what did I see, on several pairs of sandals and more than one pair of shoes, but mold. Admittedly, it wasn't as bad as in Delhi--it hadn't reached the fully furry and green stage yet. But still. You know it's been a wet summer when your shoes get moldy in New England.

I suppose I should be grateful, though. On that first day back from Bombay, I had one more monsoon-related surprise. I was in the front room of my apartment when I heard a loud crash. I had no idea what it could be, so I went back to the bedroom, and into the bathroom next to the bedroom, and discovered that the enormous mirror on the wall--not just a little picture frame of a mirror but one that took up most of the wall above the sink--had fallen to the floor and broken into a zillion pieces. How could this have happened? For reasons beyond my comprehension, the people who had put the mirror on the wall had GLUED it there. In Delhi, where it's rainy and humid for 3 or 4 months a year. No screws, no nails, nothing solid holding it to the wall but glue. Which, over time, began to unstick itself, until it gave up the ghost entirely.

My ineffectual landlords fluttered about a bit but weren't very helpful. (I did, eventually, get a new mirror, and I stood there watching them put it in until I was positive they were fixing it to the wall with something besides glue.) I was very insistent on living without a servant (unusual in Delhi), but even I gave in and paid the girl who did the sweeping for my landlords to clean up the mirror.

And in some kind of synchronicity, my new friend, Janet Chawla, invited me for dinner as an antidote to the moldy shoes and the shattered mirror. Now, 14 years later, Jan (who still lives in Delhi and does research on traditional birth practices in India and runs an NGO called Matrika) is my frequent email Scrabulous partner. And 14 years later, in this season of climate change and New England monsoons, I'm dealing with moldy shoes once more and grateful, at least, that the potential bad luck of another broken mirror has not yet befallen me.

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