It was a rainy July day in Bombay. The city looked like it was afloat. We got ready and got to school, it didn’t matter what the weatherman said. After jumping over muddy puddles, our uniforms were only partly dry from where the sticky raincoats had managed to do their job. Our shoes were soaked from the lashing rain.
The moisture in the air made everything damp, inside the classroom, the wooden benches with the varnish wiped out, looked like they were made of clay. Even our school books were not spared, the dense air had made our books curl up their ends.
We, a bunch of 9-year-olds, sat at our desks all day, moping. The only happy moment of the day was yet to come, with the long “Trriiinnggggg,” of the recess bell. When it rang, we’d fish out our stainless steel tiffins, re-arrange our desks to form a large table and lay out a spread. Paneer burji-chapati, a green chutney vegetable sandwich, poori-bhaji, sabudana khichdi, bread rolls, poha, lemon rice…it was a feast.
We stuffed our faces, our hands reaching out to different steel bowls, we talked non-stop as we ate. We shared jokes and gossip. Imitated our least favourite teacher and hoped for less homework. The 20 minutes of mindless chatter flew by quickly.
The second half of the school day, was then more tolerable, before we had to again wade through slushy puddles. The sky would still be grey, but our spirits were not so dreary, since there was another hot meal waiting for us at home. The tiffin had done its job – a lifebuoy that saved us from being drowned in ennui on a rainy day.
The local train commute from one end of Mumbai to the other is a life leveller. Battling the city’s rain always made us feel grateful for being alive at the end of each day. The mass of umbrellas would crawl to the entrance of the local train station, after a brief tussle of closing a wet umbrella, and finding a plastic bag to store it, the commuters moved in unison to the footbridge, the gaps in the station’s roof making sure we were drenched again.
The stairs to the overhead bridge connecting the platforms looked like waterfalls. It could have been a pleasing cityscape aesthetic, if it didn’t involve a crush of bodies running to catch the 7.05 am fast train to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). This was my train to get to college. After picking up its share of wet bodies, our train snaked across the water logged city.
At the end, our destination with its high-domed ceiling gave us space to breathe. Getting off the train at CST, felt like getting a warm hug. It was the heat of thousands of commuters swarming around us, and felt like being toppled in a giant dryer. This was however, just a temporary reprieve, an air-lock of sorts, before the dampness got hold again.
This daily commute always had a pick me up, especially if you had a few minutes to spare. You could take the subway to get out near Metro cinema, head up to Kyani & Co., a century old Iranian restaurant, and tuck into a plate of hot brun maska and chai. You could also order a mawa cake to go with it, or a mutton samosa.
Nothing warms you from within like a well done omelette with toast, or maybe a kheema-pav. You could get back here for a late lunch of piping hot chicken sali or mutton dhansak. There is always a sunny side to rainy day. You just have to wade a bit, for it. And always pack extra mava cakes for the commute back home. They are easier to eat, when you are holding an umbrella.
My adopted city seems to lose its bearings with the slightest pitter-patter of rain. After having lived in a city where you see rain falling in sheets, Delhi rain always looks like a drizzle. And on cue, there is always a rush at a Haldiram’s or Evergreen at Green park, because everyone suddenly needs hot jalebis, and a plate piled with steaming chole and puffed up bature - the perfect antidote for dreary weather.
The other perfect snack for when the skies open up and the air is easier to breathe, is a hot bowl of moth kachori- a mash of boiled moong dal and spices served with crunchy topping of smashed kachori, onion-rings and finely chopped green chillies.
You could also find comfort in a hot double egg-mutton seekh roll at Khan Chacha or head to Chittranjan Park for some delicious ghughni, a chaat made with boiled chickpeas, potatoes and tangy tamarind gravy. Steaming hot momos also do the trick. It is after all a rainy day, perfect time for comfort food.
Sharon Fernandes is a journalist based in Delhi.