It was a hot summer afternoon, in the month of April in my home town in India; I must have been around ten-year old. The sun was baking the ground with its intense heat. I and my friends were playing in the hot sun, our favorite game, “cricket”. The hot sun was burning our skins while we played. But that did not deter us a bit from playing, as we were engrossed in the game. The playground was just a quarter mile away from my home. There were not many houses around the area. The ones that had been, were placed far distance from each other. The ground was surrounded with vast expanse of mango trees, tall tamarind trees with little white flowers that sprung up during that time of the year. There was a small fig tree beside a temple on one end of the ground. There were rows of guava and sapota trees on another corner of the ground. The spaces between the trees were covered with thick tall grass that had grown wildly. Butterflies and dragon flies usually flocked over the grass in large number. Hidden behind the thick expanse of trees, was a huge abandoned palace, partly visible from its rising tower. The ground was always filled with kids from surrounding neighborhood who played there the entire day. Some played “marbles”, some “Gulli Danda”, some “Cricket”; the girl folk mostly played “Lagori”- the game of hitting a heap of shells. Smaller kids kept busy chasing butterflies and dragon flies in the tall grass beneath the trees. Cricket had been my favorite game and I was on the ground for the same.
While we were playing, all of a sudden there was electrifying lightning. A roaring thunder followed it. The hot sun which was burning since morning was slowly covered by grey clouds those gathered. The atmosphere turned gloomy. Drops of water started dropping from the sky. Many of the kids who were on the ground started leaving the ground expecting heavy rain. Rains that happen in midsummer in tropical countries like India, pour for a short period but are often exceptionally heavy.
This was the first of the midsummer rain. I was excited to feel the first rain of the season. So I was reluctant to leave the ground though some friends kept calling me to leave as they departed from the ground. Couple of friends stayed back to enjoy the rain. As the rain drops fell on my head and body a chill ran through the body. Taking a break from the game I realized how much my body had heated in the sun. The drops of rain on the heated body were working like ice on fire. The rain intensified in some time. The tiny drops gave way to bigger and bigger drops until each drop seemed like big transparent gem. Our excitement had no bounds. We were enjoying each drop of the rain on our body. We danced and sang as the rain-soaked us. The lightning and thunder every now and then added to our excitement. With each roar of the thunder we screamed to tune up to the sound of the thunder. The wind blew strong and shook the trees on either sides. The sound of thunder frightened the little birds that flew with their chirping noise, from one tree to another to take refuge on the safest tree.Water started filling in the small pits around the ground slowly. The rain drops that fell on the accumulated water on the ground made a rhythmic sound. Each drop that hit the ground water rose slightly creating small ripples in the water.
I stood there in the middle of the ground with my eyes closed and head raised towards the sky. I stretched my arms wide to expose myself to the rain as much as possible to enjoy each drop of water on my body. It was fun to stick out the tongue in the rain and feel the drops of water striking gently on the tongue. Soon, the rain drops percolated the ground. The ground that had been baked by the hot sun since morning was now cooling off slowly. The aroma that arose from within the soil when the soil got soaked in the rain water filled my nostrils and took me captive. How much I had loved that natural fragrance. That distinct smell of earth. It could be experienced only in this season with the midsummer rain shower. I stood there with my eyes closed breathing deeply, engulfed by the smell of the soil. I wanted to enjoy every part of that natural smell. I kept inhaling deeper and deeper while the rain washed me from head to toe. Several minutes had passed and I was still lost in myself. Then I felt someone pulling me by my arm and a faint a voice that called “Let’s go, let’s go no. The rain is pouring heavily”.
I opened my eyes; it was my three year old daughter standing beside me, pulling my arm. “Daddy… Daddy… the rain is pouring heavily. Let’s go now”. I was in the garden in front of my parent’s house soaking in the rain. With eyes closed, I had been enjoying the first rain of the summer season. That distinct aroma of the soil that engulfed me had taken me twenty-five years back in time. Time that I had spent in my home town growing up with my parents, playing on the ground near my home with my friends, enjoying the same first midsummer rain shower and the aroma of the soil. I had retreated myself to the time of my childhood.
It was about an hour back just before the rain started. The same hot summer day of April in my parent’s house. The intense heat of summer had been unbearable. The lack of air conditioning had added to the misery from the heat inside the old-fashioned house of my parents. The spicy, delicious and heavy meal that afternoon had rendered its effect on my body and brain, making me drowsy. Unbearable heat had forced me to lie on the granite floor that was cool. The slow rotating fan on the ceiling with its quirky sound pushed some cool air over my body. In no time I had gone in a deep slumber. It must have passed over half an hour when a sudden heavy sound like that of an explosion broke my sleep. Before I could realize what had happened, it cracked again. There was a roaring thunder that was striking at its best, signaling the arrival of the midsummer rain. I walked towards the window to gaze out towards the sky. The clouds had gathered and turned grey. The sun had already gone in hiding. The atmosphere had turned dark. The weather had already cooled a little. I was excited to see and feel the first summer rain of the season again that I had missed from several decades now.
I ran to the other room where my daughter had been playing with her cousins, their favorite game with the shells. I asked them to follow me outside the house. As we came out in the garden in front of the house, rain drops had already started showering down. This was the first tropical rain that my daughter was to see and feel. And I was to feel it back after nearly a decade.
Each drop falling on us gave shiver of excitement. The little girls were jumping in joy to the fall of the rain. As the rain intensified, so did the excitement of my daughter and her cousins. They danced and sang the rain song. I watched them fall several times on the ground that had now become slippery with the rain. Falling and getting up and dancing again added to their excitement. Their mud covered faces showed their attractive innocence.
Other kids near our home started to jump out of their houses to enjoy the rain as well. A small pit in front of one of the house next to our’s now filled with rain water. The youngest kid in the neighborhood was quick to come running with a paper boat in his hand. Slowly other kids joined him with their own paper boats. My daughter and her cousins too ran towards the water filled pit to be part of the fun. To see the game of boats. Pushing the boat to sail from one corner of the pit to the other was fun to watch. The longer one’s boat sustained in the water in the pouring rain was the winner. Yelling and laughing noise of the kids filled the atmosphere. I was amused at the play of those kids. I was delighted to see the happiness of my daughter while she played in the water with the paper boats. She had not experienced this before. Soaking in the rain, boats of paper, walking on the slippery soil trying to control her balance, mud all over her face. It was all so much fun, never experienced by her before.
Slowly the soil in the garden had soaked in rain water. Cooling itself, mixing with the rain water, the soil raised that distinct aroma from within it. The same familiar natural fragrance of the earth. It took me in its spell. I kept breathing the smell deeper and deeper. While my daughter was busy playing with other kids I was enjoying the aroma of the soil. I closed my eyes. The smell brought back memories of my childhood. The familiar smell that I use to experience as a kid. I stretched my arms wide to feel each drop of the rain, inhaling the sweet smell of the soil and lost in memory, long time, until my daughter came back and pulled my arms.
I asked her “Did you enjoy the rain, the mud and the boats my dear?” “It was lot and lot of fun”. She smiled and hugged me tightly as I carried her back inside the house. The rain continued pouring heavily outside.
Lot has changed over years since I left my parent’s house. All the trees near my home were cut down to give way to urbanization by the city municipality. Tall apartment complexes and housing units have filled the space where the large beautiful trees once stood. Gone is the muddy ground where kids filled the air with shouts, laughs, songs and dances the entire day. Concrete blocks have filled the entire ground. Everything has changed. The only thing that has remained unchanged is that natural aroma of soil soaked with the midsummer rain that still brings back those sweet childhood memories.