Rain

रजितसुगतमुकुटमणिचरणं निर्जितनिखिलविबुधनशरणं।
. . .
इति श्रीमहाराजाधिराजराजेन्द्र श्री २ कवीन्द्र-जयप्रताप मल्ल देव विरचितं वृष्टिचिन्तामणिर्नाम स्तोत्रं सम्पूर्ण।।

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June 16, 1841

Nepal Valley

It started yonder, over the slopes of Chandragiri. Our Chandragiri, whose central bulk resembles a majestic elephant head when seen from parts of our valley. Pluffywite clouds, scattered about but only yesterday, colluded over the elephant head of Chandragiri, doing कानेखुसि in a language we did not understand. Soon they gathered into large imposing masses. The wind picked up. The clouds swirled northward. They gathered moisture, gathered purpose, darkened in color, became a single impenetrable slab by the time they arrived over Thapathali. In time, the mass stretched outward, reaching for the surrounding hills and beyond. Soon it loomed densemysterious over all of Nepal, in shades of blueblack,fringed in deep gray. A pregnant promise. A hint of malice. It was only midday, but the dense cover made us think it was two ghadis after sunset. If we had aspired, we could have easily touched the thick molasses swirling over the valley with our bare hands.  But we never did. 

The soul-scorching bare heat of the direct sun was gone, but a sweltering stickiness still lay heavy in the air. Our perennial crows and sparrows were unusually quiet. The galli dogs roamed restless, also in silence. Indeed the entire valley was quiet. A tense quiet, as if the animals the trees the hills the gods were waiting.

Then

मिलिक्…मिलिक्…

झिलिक्क

Angry slivers of lightning flared over Mangal Bazaar, Tudikhel, then Kirtipur. The light rushed off to the hills, made the peripheries of Nepal glow incandescent for fleeting moments: now Phulchoki, now Nagarjun and now Kakani lit up in turn with an unnatural light, penetrating the otherwise all-encompassing darkness. 

The briefest of silences ensued. Followed by

ढड्याङ्…ढड्याङ्…

ढड्याङ्ङ्ङ्ङ्ङ्ङ

Suddenly, no human or animal was in sight. All of us yielded the valley to Nature, for this was a time for Nature to assert herself – her Peacock Dance – and us mortals stepped aside in stupefied awe. We huddled inside our brickhouses. The dogs and cows found shelter in the nooks of our temples and paatis. The birds snuck deep inside the temples and trees. The majestic fury of lightning and thunder continue for many pals. A celestial game of tag: the lightning flash darts, the thunder catches up, the lightning flash swerves, the thunder responds, having echoed back from the hills. 

Then another silence. This time a more relieved silence, like the silence at the end of a fierce war. But still pregnant if that is possible. The theatrics of Nature had not satiated us. Having shaken us, it had somehow increased our anticipation.

In utter silence, then, the dark gray clouds scurried hither. The deep blue clouds slithered yon. The silence made the performance more intimidating…almost demonic.

The third and final act started slowly. The first few tentative drollops landed randomly on the vegetation behind our houses, causing a loud haphazard clatter that had no rhythm to it. The pitter patter bent the long corn leaves in unnatural angles. The fragile soybean leaves shook occasionally on contact. It was a reunion dance, but the plants seemed to be offended that the initial steps were so awkward.  The twirlyswirls of the lahare cucumber clinging to the garden walls mostly stayed out of it and just swayed in the breeze. In front of our houses, the large splats broke up into a hundred small droplets on hitting the parched tiles and bricks of our chowks and temple squares. The droplets created temporary scars where they fell, but warmed by the stored heat of the brickwork, evaporated quickly into nothingness. This first contact of water and earth did leave behind a more lasting gift: a subtle organic smell of soil roused by the moisture, the smell of dust not yet turned to mud, permeated the air. A smell dearly familiar to all of us.

In time the pitter-patter grew louder, more frequent, and picikingupspeed quickly reached a crescendo as Indra appeared, soared swiftly across the sky, and slit the clouds open with his vajra. And lo, the heavens poured down upon us. Nourishing rain fell in massive diagonal sheets of gray onto Nepal. The Purna Kalashas had been overturned, spilling the contained Soma freely. Now even mortals could partake of it. Soma, replenisher of the dry, parched earth. Soma, agency of sustenance, nourisher of grain, ensurer of harvest. Soma, elixir of the heavens, shared without reserve with mortals for but a precious few months of the year. 

The unrelenting downpour washed away the sweltering moist heat smothering all of Nepal. In its place came a gentle breeze. It was not exactly cold, but the steady wind and permeating wetness somehow got to our bones. It even caused the more fastidious of our bent elders to pull out siraks and blankets from storage, and cocoon themselves within.

The rain fell on the vegetation. The initial hesitancy on first contact exhibited earlier by the leaves was gone. Now the leaves the branches the flowers all swayed in abandon in unison to the swooshing chorus of pitter-patter:

झुम झुम झुम झुम 

झम झम झम झम

The rain fell on our galli dogs, who meandered around the streets, before curling up into balls anywhere it took their fancy, heads tucked snug under flanks, soon sound asleep, as unmoved by the drenching rain as they were earlier moved into hiding by the thunder.

The rain fell on our pigeons. They stirred, flew about desultory among the temples and squares, got drenched. Changing their minds, they returned to the temple struts, rafters and eaves, shook their bodies violently, succeeded partially in warding off the water, then stared vacant from their perches with frazzled feathers and spiky necks. The crows and sparrows remained in hiding.

The rain fell on Singu hill, where the eternal eyes of Swayambhu gazed serene. Swayambhu, the self-existent, of flame, of crystal, who had seen so much and had forgiven us all, with utter, utter compassion.

The rain fell, too, on our rain gods,whom we had beseeched to send us rain. It fell on Pashupati, whom we had lustrated with holy water last month so he would cause rain. It fell on Matsyendranath’s chariot, which we had pulled into Jawalakhel just last week. It fell on all the subterranean serpents and their king, Karkotak, to whom we had already paid the proper homage. It fell too on the statues of Indra, original ancient god of rain. We might have ignored him somewhat in the last few centuries, but we would for sure worship him in a few months time – with a festive entirely to his name, we would like to point out.

The rain fell on the courtyards of our bahas and bahis, our tols and gallis, our sattals and patis. The rain washed away the accumulated dust the feces the cow droppings the rotting rice from our rachhans. We were grateful for this. 

But along with these the rain also washed away, little by little, the silay that joined the bricks of our temples and houses. It washed away the rich nurturing soil from our terraced fields. Little by little, it clawed on our statues and temples, sculpted miracles in wood metal stone. And little by little, it washed away a bit of ourselves, in rivulets and streams trickling through our gallis first, then collecting in our chowks, pouring off into Manohara and Tukucha and Nakkhu, before gathering momentum in the unified torrents of Bagmati and Bishnumati at Teku. The willing swirling waters then carried it all, all away to Balkhu, to Chobar, and finally out of the valley through the swirling waters past Karyabinayak and through the hills towards Ganga, towards Kashi, and for better or for worse, as it always has and as it perhaps always will,  always, always, towards India.

 

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Jung Bahadur looked up at the rain. When was this useless downpour going to let up? He was itching to get some exercise out in the open but the rain had kept him indoors for days. He looked sideways at Putali Nani, who lay languid upon his chest, exhausted. Damn, her face was bewitchingly pretty… it got him every time.  But now she lay sound asleep, mouth slightly open, her foulish warm breath hitting him repeatedly on the neck and assaulting his nose… hints of garlic and onions. Jung Bahadur twitched his shoulders instinctively. This caused Putali Nanu to slide off his chest and slump clumsily onto the carpet. He let her be. Instead, he thought about the Darbar gossip she had shared earlier. He did not give a damn about feminine gossip, but it often contained nuggets of information, some of them useful. The Senior Rani’s recent tantrums, running off to Pashupati one day and to Hetauda the next… perpetual threats and constant ultimatums, perhaps she has truly gone mad. And Surendra, such barbarism, such lunacy at eleven years of age. He makes my life living hell when I am in service, but I can handle it and I will make sure I get something out of it. But now he is turning on his newlywed wife. How could he throw her, a child of eight years, into the pond?… and that too for the second time? And that spineless Rajendra allows all this to happen under his nose… maybe even encourages it. How can a country run like this? To hell with the whole lot of them! The next Bhimsen Thapa is coming soon, to wrest control from this weak Darbar and rule with an iron fist. I just need to find him, align myself to him, and rise as he rises…

Surendra looked up at the rain. From his balcony above Mohan Chowk, the evil dark clouds appeared very low in the sky. The rain fell down in fearful dark torrents. Surendra slowly shifted his eyes towards the top of Basantapur tower. Vulture be gone… vulture be gone… Sonofawhore! The vulture was still there, perched menacingly above the gajur. Now, sensing Surendra’s presence, the vulture slowly turned its neck and stared with sunken evil eyes directly at him. It would soon stretch its naked pink neck, spread its ugly wings, and scoop down through the courtyard to pick out his eyes. Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod. Up above, the entire celestial weight of the sky was coming down on him, lower and lower, unrelenting, pressing down upon his head, shoulders, chest… The pressure was becoming unbearable. He tried to move, but was gripped by fear. Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod. Beside him, someone was standing with folded arms, pleading with him about something. Vaguely he caught a few words: nightfall… Her Royal Highness… pneumonia… forgive and forget… Was that a real person speaking? Was it an apparition? But he had no time to decide. He was going to be crushed under the weight of the entire sky soon,  crushed like a bug, blood splattered everywhere. Or the vulture would pick at his eyes and his brains through the holes in his skull. Or Bhimsen Thapa’s ghost would come and try to “talk some sense” into him again. Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod.

Brian Hodgson looked up at the rain. The reading room at the Residency was a perfect roost to take in the sweet melancholy of these Monsoon rains. He was worried about the Nepal Durbar. News of our recent losses in China seemed to have rekindled the dormant Goorkha Spirit. The Rajah talks openly about alliancing with Punjab and the Persians against us.  For all his feebleness, the Rajah does have a handsome grasp of Asian affairs and of the most fitting chess move that places his Durbar at the next position of optimal advantage… If only he would put his domestic affairs in order and control the Senior Rani and Heir Apparent. The Rajah believes he is playing a sound game of chess in the domestic front too, but he fools himself. Ere long, some knight will leap out unexpected and checkmate him at his own game. Has be forgotten already the hard-earned lessons of the Bhimsen Thapa tragedy?

Laccho looked up at the rain. The raindrops hit her directly on the eyes and it hurt, so she looked down again. The water in the pond lapped dangerously around her shoulders. She had to stand fully straight so that it did not get to her chin or into her ears. At the same time, she was trying very hard not to lose her foothold on the slippery bricks underneath: the bricks were smooth, and the soles of her feel could feel a layer of moss along the surface, which made the bricks even more slippery. One false step and I will slip, and drown. The water had wrinkled the tips of her fingers a long time ago. It was not exactly cold, but she was beginning to shiver. हे दइब! I don’t understand why this is happening. They told me everything would be better after the wedding. They said I was going to be a queen of this awful country someday. So why is he treating me like this? And why does Ajima not come to rescue me? Why does the Senior Queen not come? Isn’t she from Gorakhpur too? How could she stand by and let that beast do this to me? Someone, please come in through that courtyard and save me before night comes. The darkness is sure to confuse my balance and kill me… she looked up cowering towards the dreaded Basuki Naag on top of the massive pole in the middle of the pond…Or maybe that serpent will… They say it sometimes leaps out of the pole and swallows small children under cover of night…

Dhan Sundar looked up at the rain. Very good. He smiled. If it continues like this for a few days, the fields will be ready for transplantation exactly on Ashar 15. He thought of the merry march to the fields, his brothers sisters uncles cousins neighbors in-laws shouting laughing all the way, the terraced fields lying serene, brimming with water, the sky reflected clearly on the undisturbed surface of each terrace, the soothing feeling of wet mud squeezing in between his toes, the croaking frogs and chirping crickets, the drinking,  the open flirting among young and old. He thought of the song his father-in-law was sure to sing during sinaajya.  In anticipation, he started humming it himself:

भा पिल झाय ला जि बोना याने ला
मन जा चिव लिसे ओल ह्नम
आयाले भाजु हाय सिःनाज्या नि ओने
ज्यामियात बजि नके मा नि ह्नम…

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Opening Sanskrit text: The first and last lines of  Vrishti-Chintamani, a charm of rain in 34 stanzas by King Pratap Malla, from a copy in the Cambridge University Library collection.

Closing Newari text: Excerpt from a sihnajya (rice transplantation) song, published in Songs of Nepal: An Anthology of Nevar Folksongs and Hymns by Siegfried Lienhard.

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