When the rain began to fall, fast and heavy, we were only a third across the construction site: there was no soft drizzle followed by a steady quickening of pace, but a downpour of the kind in the movies, where one moment the sun shines bright, and the next, heavy sprays of water engulf the people on the screen.
But I exaggerate — we had fair warning. A shower had just ended, and it looked like the sky was clearing, but either because it was past sunset time and we couldn’t tell the regular dark from the grey-purple clouds, or because our craving for potato chips at the corner shop was too high, we set out for a walk.
G. looked up at the sky. ‘Should we have brought an umbrella?’
Cathy Earnshaw possessed me. ‘No, let’s just go, we’ll be back before it rains.’ Or even if it did, what were a few drops here and there? I glanced at the dark clouds over the building, fascinated by the thick edges, wondering what they must look like gathering over the sea. The evening had a grey hue that the lights didn’t help.
Changing from our usual route, we took a detour across a plot which was probably a coconut grove once. A fellow trespasser looked askance at us as he crossed us on his path in the opposite direction. Then the rain hit without warning. Some men grappled with the big wheel of a JCB stuck at an odd angle in the middle of the plot. A few of them abandoned the effort as the rain picked up, making a beeline for the boundary: what kind of shelter awaited them there was not clear. We ran for the road ahead; the security guard’s cabin, brightly lit, was locked, ruling out the possibility of any relief.
Reaching the road, we weighed our options very quickly. The supermarket with its dull aisles on the left or the inviting cauldron of potato chips on the right? Both were a few hundred metres away, not for this weather. We chose the tea shop across the road and joined the motorists who stood under its dripping eaves.
‘Shall we have bajji?’ asked G. We squeezed into the shop, sitting down on stools packed into the tight space between one of the counters and small tables whose surfaces were stained with the rings left behind by tea glasses. Like speakers on a stage, everyone looked in the same direction — eyes trained on the lights at the construction site, which provided a good indication of the strength of the rain, should the other senses prove insufficient. The wind whipped the showers into the distance.
We were among the few customers who bought food. The most common purchases were tea and cigarettes, which were lit with a lighter suspended by a thread on a pillar. In the front, the cook braved the wind and the rain bravely over a sizzling cauldron from which hot bajji emerged, until the yellow plastic sheet gathering the water overhead gave way: the frying operations were halted and one of the staff took the last batch of bajji away. He and the cook lifted the heavy plastic sheet, trying to drain the rain water into the night. No good. Loath to waste time, the cook started chopping plantains.
I was happy that I had left my phone at home. I had nothing to do but watch people and daydream, like in the old days. There was no room for boredom or anxiety. It helped that we were not in a hurry to get anywhere. Now, if we were Rusty and Daljit, running away from school to get to Jamnagar, it would be a different story. This happily not being the case, we could afford to soak in the rain and the atmosphere. The counter behind me was lined with glass jars that held slices of cake and varieties of bakery biscuits. Three samosas lay forlorn on a tray, losing to the hot, bright bajji and vadai, served with watery but delicious coconut and tomato chutney (in this economy!). The Malayalam conversations of the staff brought back pleasant memories of our holidays in Kerala (which, on all three occasions, have been timed to coincide with the monsoons). There was no traffic, no blaring horns, just a quiet country road that was slowly being adopted by the city, and the sound of rain interspersed with human voices. All of us mostly minded our own business and were outwardly at peace.
As the rain slowed to a drizzle, we paid “Jyothibasu” and set off homewards, giving up our plan to buy chips. But we were satiated with plantain bajji and chilli bajji and an extremely sweet cup of raagi malt (which I am finding out is a staple in tea shops here), and our little throwback to Kerala in the rain. We plan to return to this tea shop occasionally, but it may never be the same in dry weather.