In Kolkata, capital on India’s West Bengal state, the rains are legendary. Every local has their monsoon memories. My cousin Arpita recalls how she once ended up singing and dancing in the rain.
On a late Kolkata afternoon, I meet my cousin for tea at Flury’s on Park Street. This institution is where Kolkatans turn to if they want to experience an old-style British teahouse. The chicken sandwiches are bland with a hint of mustard, but the white bread is wafer thin. The cakes are iced in quaint pinks and whites, and the éclairs have the correct lightness in the pastry.
Arpita Mitra is in her 40s and has some lovely memories of growing up in this city. “One afternoon my college friend and I walked down Park Street to visit Oxford Bookstore, when suddenly there was this literal cloudburst,” she says. “We two girls had no umbrella, no raincoat, just our college bags. The shower swept us off our feet, and in a wave of madness we ran to the phuchka-wallah, who was winding up his food stall, to force him to give us a few phuchkas. [Phuchka is a spicy street snack, literally bombs of chili and tamarind water that explode in your mouth and heat your very inner core on a rainy day.]
“Is tamarind water a bit intoxicating? I don’t know why we were high all of a sudden but we really, really danced in the rain. We sang too. We walked from Park Street to Southern Avenue in knee-deep water, our clothes completely drenched... only to reach my friend’s place and have another round of monsoon intoxication. Piping hot pakodas (vegetable fritters) and tea this time. And adda [chatter] and laughter.
“That night it was impossible to return all the way home, so I told my parents and slept over. My friend and I stood on the balcony at midnight, stretching out our hands in the pouring rain as the last blinking lights of vehicles with weary wipers slowly passed on that green shady avenue. The view from the overlooking balcony was eerie, with reflections of the flickering lights and shadows against the downpour.
Even today, I still associate monsoon in Kolkata with that gush of refreshing madness.”
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