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  • Monsoon and Peacock
  • Humayrah Poppins (bio) and Aimee Nezhukumatathil (bio)

What monsoon can do is give you sweetness in spite of the heavy wet. Even when it rains in Kerala, India, people still ride their colorful scooters, and some even carry a friend or a love along with them. If it is a woman behind the driver, she will sit sidesaddle, wrapped in her sari or churidar. One hand grips only the padded rim of the seat for support, the other holds a black umbrella covering herself and the driver. The thwap-thwap-thwap of raindrops the size of quarters and the scooter’s engine—the only sounds worth noticing on their damp course through the village streets.

This rain is never scary, though, even during monsoon. You can tell monsoon is near when you hear a sound like someone shaking a packet of seeds in the distance. A pause—and then the roar. You know it’s coming when the butterflies—fire skippers and blue bottles—fly in abundance over my grandmother’s cinnamon plants and suddenly vanish. A whole family of peacocks will gather up in a banyan tree, so still, as if posing for a seasonal portrait. Then the shaking sound begins.

If you could smell the wind from an ecstatic, teeny bat—if you could smell banana leaves drooping low and modest [End Page 122] into the ruddy soil, if you could inhale clouds whirring so fast across the sky—that is what monsoon rain smells like.

Of the two monsoons that drench India each year, the Southwest monsoon, between May and August, is the heavier rain, while the Northeast monsoon in October is much more misty and light, feathering over people’s faces from sunrise to dusk—like the mist machines in the produce section of my neighborhood grocery back in New York, which inevitably turn on just when I happen to be examining asparagus shoots or selecting a container of raspberries.

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Monsoons transform the countryside of the southwest coast of India into a blaze of fierce-green verdure twice a year. The heavier rains etch metallic rivers such as the Periyar and the Bharathappuzha even deeper and wider, flowing westward from the rugged Western Ghats, until they lose themselves in milky conversation with each other in the deep backwaters, then, finally, into the Arabian Sea. Coconut trees swoop and tangle low at water’s edge. From a distant bridge, the horizon is nothing but green stars.

Kill a black cobra and hang it in a tree so itwill rain. Rings around the moon mean rain. Rain crow can tell of coming rain. [End Page 123] Cows lying down is a sign of rain. If two doves sit in a frangipani tree, facing  the same direction, it will rain. Swallow four seeds of a violet guava for rain. Step on an ant and it rains. Orange moon equals rain. A dog eats grass? Means rain.

The rain is a constant companion during my stay with my grandmother in Kerala, this land of coconuts. Kerala, land of rain. I am in my first year of grad school, and although I’ve visited India before—I was eight years old the first time—this trip is my first abroad without my parents to navigate me through extreme weather conditions I simply hadn’t encountered in the States. Rain murmurs in my ears as I maneuver my way around the paths of the markets in Kottayam, the town where she lives. It trickles down my neck, repelling into beads on my waxy skin, freshly rubbed with mosquito repellent. In the space between my eyebrows, I am smudged with black: my painstakingly applied liquid bindi pools down the bridge of my nose and collects under my right eye.

Hot, fat raindrops drench my face even as I stand on our covered back porch. I spy three old women in saris stealing coconuts from my grandmother’s grove just outside the village—the men who work my grandmother’s land shoo them, but they just laugh, leaping gracefully like colorful birds scattering at the sight of a mongoose, up and over the...


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pp. 122-129
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