Being born in a valley carries its own charms. While growing up in Kashmir, a picturesque vale, surrounded by mahogany coloured mountains, we always had a few things in abundance: Flowers, lakes and the perennial rain. With camping ruled out during the 1990s, because of an ongoing civil conflict (whoever said all beautiful things are a little jinxed was right), much of our leisure time was spent at home — in the gardens, where the bumblebees hummed past, rolling lazily over marigolds on a given day.
But the one lasting memory I have is of evening skies, suddenly turning overcast, and the heavens opening up. The thing I truly miss about home is the rains. Especially the smell of earth after the first rain.
At that time, still in school, with no internet access and little idea of the vagaries of nature, I would be overjoyed by the raw scents of first spring rain. Once, shortly after high school, on a trek with friends, we got caught up in a drizzle. There were a few clouds when we started, but a few kilometres on, as we ascended a small hillock, it began to drizzle. We sat by a rock clearing, where a few villagers were tending their sheep.
Soon it was raining heavily — and it was a sight to behold. Everywhere you looked (and we were at a certain vantage point), it was pouring — over the orchards, onto the roofs of tiny homes in a distance, on our small mossy hillock (and upon the sheep and us).
Baarish, as rain is called in Urdu, is a great equaliser. It surprised the sheep on that hillock, as much as it overwhelmed us. Our group was not bewildered by the sudden showers, but we stood there in awe of nature’s sheer force.
The Turks, I was to learn much later, call it Rahmat, and the Arabs call it Matar. Almost every language has a rhyming, song-like word for rain. It becomes Rigning in Icelandic and Yu in Mandarin.
Back on the rainy day, I instantly knew that the pleasant scent of earth that had suddenly permeated the air around was petrichor. It is a freshness, hard to describe, but one that makes you rush to the nearest cafe and order your favourite coffee as you settle down and look out at the downpour.
Often the ferocious storms at night, which were not too uncommon in the hills, brought its own dreads. You stood transfixed by lightning in the night sky — the ferocious signature of God on his palimpsest. In red ink. Like a furious teacher, signing a poor marks sheet. In red. Cross at us for some archaic reason. Didn’t we do our homework well enough?
But mornings were the best! The garden, it appeared, had received a fresh lick of paint. Everything looked brighter and cleaner. The marigolds were fresher than the previous day and the grass looked so lush that you actually wanted to touch the raindrops clinging to its blades. And then nature has its balladeers too. Two types of woodpeckers in Kashmir, the Green woodpecker and Pied woodpecker, are believed to sing during the rains.
Older folk, my grandmother’s age, said with a certain reassurance that these birds flitted between the trees and chirped to welcome the showers. Maybe that was only lore or there could be a kernel of truth to it, one could never tell. Here in Dubai where it doesn’t rain much, I often catch myself thinking about that hillock — with the sheep and myself getting drenched on a beautiful rainy day.