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Too Much Rain

Too Much Rain

November 15, 2011

There are plenty of good reasons to talk about the weather.

“You've brought the weather with you,” we say in New Zealand when someone arrives in a storm. In a land of (mostly) harmless weather, where temperatures rarely rise or fall outside a comfortable range and rain tends to be more spatter than deluge, this statement is superficially meaningless. We say it because the person has arrived, and the wind and rain is there, so perhaps by linking the two with a tired joke we can start the process of verbal reconnection – even if we just saw the person yesterday.

“Hot/cold, isn't it?” they say in Japan, pretty much every day. If it's above 35º or below 3º Celsius, TV stations can barely contain themselves. They'll devote a third of their six o'clock news bulletin to meteorological experts and vox pops commenting over and over on just how hot/cold it is, and whether it is going to be hot/cold again tomorrow. Among friends or families, it is an easy way to fill the inevitable silences and an opportunity for everyone to express agreement, which is a very important thing in Japan.

“Too much rain,” said my venerable neighbour in Varkala any time I saw him during the monsoon. His English wasn't great but it was a lot better than I could ever get him to believe. In his cracking, croaking voice, accompanied by furrowed eyebrows, this phrase would come to provide familiar comfort. It's funny how words can do that, especially when they're tied to one person's particular intonations and facial expressions. He would always sound a little disgusted by precipitation, and I suppose he was, given the severe emphysema that often kept him up coughing at night.

It seems people everywhere are driven helplessly towards talking about the weather.
When communication is limited by one party's small vocabulary, though, conversation becomes immune to cliché (and anyway, clichés seem mostly undiscovered in much of India, where the daily struggle for survival trumps the appreciation of linguistic quirks). I have always been quite happy to admire atmospheric phenomena, be it the bright blue of a cloudless day or the sound of rain hitting my umbrella, but becoming an outsider in both Japan and India meant weather took on the more meaningful status of a conversational safe zone.

The thing about Indian weather, as opposed to that of New Zealand and Japan, is that it is regularly worthy of discussion. When in Mumbai during the height of its sweaty, humid summer I witnessed mould grow on my travel bag over a matter of a few days, provoking shocked discourse with other expats, who would all have their own fascinated tales of mould to share. The next day, when I was in South Mumbai to meet a friend, it rained – and not the manageable spatter of New Zealand but a torrent so heavy it almost made the other side of the street vanish. I was firing off stunned Tweets even as I ran for shelter.

It would rain heavily in Kerala, too. One thing I always found strange was the belief that letting even a single drop of rain hit your head would bring you down with a cold. Going out of the office for lunch was a challenge if it was raining; after all, how on Earth we were going to traverse the ten uncovered metres between our building and Dileep's car? We'd talk about it, with some flatly refusing to budge until the rain had stopped and me cracking jokes about how weak-willed everyone else was. (And then it would start raining really hard, and my smile would drop.)

Even if the Indian seasons weren't a sight to behold in and of themselves, I still would have appreciated them for their capacity to connect. My neighbour and I would have shared far fewer words over the years were it not for the weather. It gave us something with which to break the ice as he searched for words he knew and I searched for words he would understand. We'd go on to talk about so many things: his granddaughter, my dog, his stints working in Singapore and the Gulf, the town's many changes over his 70 years. The weather itself wasn't responsible for these talks, but it carried us to them.

It used to drive me crazy when anyone started a conversation with small talk (including myself). Now I feel like the starting point is insignificant compared to where you end up. And if you just end up talking about the weather, that's okay, too. After all, isn't it a beautiful day?

Photo credit
: Ram Reddy 

3 Comments

  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    01.12.11 05:06 PM
    Looks like you've been in England sometime. Because the weather is unpredictable over there, almost everyone starts their conversation in the morning every day with some comment about the weather.

    Well! you have to start somewhere don't you? By the way it's too windy, cloudy and cold here in Germany ain't it?.
  • Lakshmi
    By
    Lakshmi
    01.12.11 02:51 PM
    Hi,

    Your post made me nostalgic. Thanks for that !
  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    15.11.11 03:22 PM
    Loved your closing lines :-)

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