The Biggest Enemy of Rain – by Manu Bhattathiri

by TBLM

Contrary to popular belief, the biggest enemy of rain is not the rapid felling of trees. Nor is it raising global temperatures, industrialization, the burning of fossil fuels or even that telltale hole in the sky. The single biggest enemy of rain is a person by the name of Gopi and he still lives in our little town and he still hates rain.

We would sit on a parapet by a small creek, a group of us younger old men and Gopi, who was old enough to be reborn a toddler. Many a time Gopi would go into the tale of his lifelong grudge with rain and, in spite of the fact that he was repeating it for the umpteenth time, word for word, we would listen eagerly. For he narrated with such earnestness, with so much devotion to the facts, that it seemed fresh each time. In fact SridharanVakkeel, who had been a bad lawyer in his ripest years, once observed that you almost felt rain under your skin when Gopi spoke. This much I can vouch for – on the days Gopi forgot his big black umbrella with its smooth ivory handle, it would indeed start to drizzle slowly, most often, irrespective of the season, proving Gopi’s point with the calm indifference that comes from a lifetime of winning easily. I have myself noticed that rain would patter softly all around us just until Gopi had hurried inside his home muttering obscenities under his breath. For three days after the day he forgot his umbrella, Gopi wouldn’t come to our parapet as he would be down with a cold. Usually when he came on the fourth day, still sneezing some, the sky would be bright with a made-up innocence, keeping a straight face. And invariably the old man would begin his tale the way he always did with the words, “Bastard rain, it has bugged me all my life.”

Gopi’s hatred for rain began when he was seven years old. It was the first day of his holidays, he said, his old eyes shining through their cataract with the power of looking so far back. Always given to playing completely alone (his playthings being stones, used cans, threads and safety pins), Gopi was all set and running along the paddy fields that skirt our little town when the sky darkened slightly. Though he didn’t yet hate rain, he did think of it as an absurd phenomenon: a sort of aberration in the natural scheme of things that came and wet everyone and created ugly puddles everywhere. He was certain that one day when the world became more perfect, after god had repaired his silly mistakes, rain would stop. The water in wells and oceans and the small stream bordering our town would be enough to drink and wash in, without it having to shower down moronically from above.

On that morning he looked up at the sky with some irritation. Why, it wasn’t even the rainy season. Gopi stopped his running, stood in the middle of the paddy field and looked up: “The only special occasion now is that you wish to spoil my play, no?”

As if in answer the sky broke water. It simply ripped apart like a flimsy cloth, unable to contain the weight of some needless malignancy that was waiting to be born. Cold needles poked him. The expanse of the field around him turned into a soggy, foggy white and the crop bowed in submission. Water flew everywhere like shards of glass. Worse, the skies lit up here and there with lightning, followed shortly by thunder that sounded like deafening heartbeats. Scared and angry, little Gopi let go of the thread he was holding, at the other end of which was a small train he had made out of cans filled with stones. He let the toy go and ran with all his might. A couple of times he slipped and fell into the slush on either side of the narrow ridge, giving himself small cuts on the elbow and putting permanent stains on the new red t-shirt his uncle had gifted for the holidays.

Gopi reached home panting and crying as his mother came out of the kitchen with a towel to dry his head. But before she could, he stood on their porch, looked up at the sky, and sent up such a pungent volley of abuses that his mother recalculated his age upon her fingers.

Gopi officially put that incident down as the start of his lifelong rift with rain.

While a little later into the evening of that day Gopi did think of apologizing to rain (“no one can take kindly to such stinking abuse, I know”), he postponed it because he still was angry. And though he later almost forgot about what rain did in the paddy field and his own abusive retort, the quarrel was apparently far from over. During those holidays he realized that whenever he wished to go to Ambalakkavu, the sacred forest of our small town, to meet with the snakes and scorpions that he had played with last time, rain wrecked his plans. At such times it did not burst down like before. Instead it drizzled the entire day, cold and nagging. Once it poured through his window to mush up his textbooks for the coming year. It made a spongy mess of his new leather shoes only because he had forgotten to bring it indoors. It completely destroyed a little tree house he was building, and it even cracked up some roof tiles of his home so that his father was in a very bad mood for days.

Apologizing was out of the question.

“And that year when it was finally the rainy season! Oh, don’t ask!” Gopi said, sitting himself more comfortably upon the parapet, his thin, dry legs dangling. “I lost three umbrellas to the wind, until father threatened that I would have to go to school with my head bared to the torrent.” Next was the point he made every time, when we would all look at each other and smile: “I realized it wasn’t only me that hated rain. Have you seen, when it rains continuously so that the world is under water, and all the poor ants cling on to one big leaf and drift about? Do you think they like that, the poor things? Have you seen the dogs, sad creatures, all wet with their tails between their legs, looking for some roof to save them? The fallen branches of trees, broken nests, drowned kitten … I tell you, rain is a mistake.”

“But Gopi, without the rain wouldn’t it be drought here?” always asked Neelu, the retired income tax clerk whose bad breath made him stand a little away. “No crops would grow, animals would die and eventually we would, too!”

“Pthooo!” Gopi spat behind him into the creek. “It’s just that we are used to this particular mechanism. Before automobiles were invented we thought we would be rendered immobile without horses. What happened then? We just invented something smarter. Don’t tell me god is less smart than us, incapable of improvising.”

We would all nod in agreement because we knew that Gopi was too old to tolerate an argument if you took it any further. In any case, he would only just continue with his tale.

When he was nine, Gopi decided that something needed to be done about this silly and vindictive force of nature. To test its vindictiveness he sometimes went nonchalantly out the backyard on sunny afternoons to stone the mating dogs across the compound – a favourite pastime of his – and sure enough, as soon as he had reached the back gates it would begin to drizzle. He made enquiries and found out that there was a rain god who wasn’t even a full-fledged god but more of an angel sort of personality. This minor god was the one in control with regards to this stupid phenomenon.

He spoke for hours to the ants in his backyard, telling them to pray to the real gods, the ones not in charge of just the rain but the entire universe, so that in the hierarchy of things up in the heavens, this so-called ‘rain god’ (really only an angel) could be shown his place. Besides, maybe the gods had created us humans, with our superior thinking, to take our feedback once in a while about creation. Gopi was sure the real gods would take a fair view of things if he, along with all the other animals that suffered, sent a petition up complaining against the rain god.

So one night when he was nine Gopi picked himself off bed and jumped out of his window. In the backyard he picked up a bottle that he had carefully hidden in the nook of a tree’s roots and looked inside. It was crawling with hundreds of black ants that he had gathered over the day. He tightened the bottle’s lid and pushed it into his armpit, then picked up a basket he had hidden and began walking barefoot under a moon that seemed big enough to burst.

“This has to be done in the night,” he told the ants. “We don’t want to have to explain to people. They’ll say rain has been there forever and will be there forever. Worse, they’ll laugh at us. I’m sorry if I have disturbed your sleep.”

When he was nearing Ambalakkavu it began drizzling. He turned his face up to the cold needles and bared his teeth. “Yes, do it now. One last time. You’re going to be banished forever.”

Ambalakkavu, to be literally translated as The Temple Forest, is a sacred thicket that some said grew on the faith of the creatures in it and the people around it. It is a sudden burst of busy green in the midst of our little town, full of the strangest flowers, snakes, spiders, squirrels, scorpions and birds. Though he was barefoot, not a thorn hurt little Gopi’s feet as he walked down the narrow, barely perceptible path. The stones were without harsh edges, having been rounded by the feet of centuries of worshippers who visited the three idols at the centre. Gopi looked happily at the giant creepers that seemed to glow with a light of their own. He knew that some of them were actually snakes with their skins bathed in moonlight. He was continuously talking to the ants in the bottle that he had got along to pray with him. He needed these fellow-sufferers so that the all-powerful gods would know that he wasn’t being selfish and that he was representing all creatures in his petition against rain.

Soon Gopi stood in the dead centre of the forest where there was a bit of clearing and three black stone idols stood on a little altar. The drizzle had stopped but the world was still wet. This place seemed to hold its breath, yet the leaves moved in a perpetual breeze. Under the watchful eyes of the owls and upside-down bats, Gopi set the bottle on the ground and opened the lid. The ants flowed out in a dark stream, crawling about his feet and munching at the yellowed leaves strewn around. He then opened the little basket and took out his prayer kit. He set the camphor upon the altar and lit it. The aroma added to the sweetness of the night. He took out a small brass bell and rang it quite loudly as he prayed. His cheeks, wet with rain, gave him the impression of one in deep sorrow. Some birds cackled outright at the sounds he made but soon all creatures joined in the prayer against rain, for they maintained a concentrated silence, as though holding their breaths.

“O supreme lords, masters of all creation,” he said, and it poured out like an established chant. It flows out of him even now and never once, even through the forgetfulness of his old age, does he stumble in a single place. “O vanquishers of evil, controllers of the destinies of everything that exists. Accept our homage and consider our prayer against a vile and vengeful force of nature that calls itself rain. Scarcely worthy of your creation, definitely deficient in stature to hold a position in the heavens alongside the real gods such as yourselves, this dark angel is torturous towards your dutiful servants. Banish rain, o lords, that it might never again have us cry out aloud while we’re at play, nor have us crowd precariously upon one floating leaf nor push our tails betwixt our legs…”

He saw the snakes slither less and less until they had stopped moving completely in total reverence. Two big chameleons stood motionless just outside a crevice in a black rock. Even the restless ants were now all pointed at the idols, their tiny antennae held stiff in attention. Gopi sneaked a peek at the sky overhead. Directly above, the trees formed a green ring through which he saw that rain did not dare commit sacrilege at this moment. The clear sky, with its bright and smiling stars, gave him a rush of emotion, and real tears mixed with the water on his cheeks.

The next morning Gopi’s mother scowled at the mud on his knees and sent him to his bath earlier than usual.

But something strange happened in the following days. It did not rain at all, but that was not what flummoxed Gopi. At times there was some thunder and lightning, and nature felt like a barrel of gunpowder about to burst. It smelt as if it might rain, and the frogs croaked in anticipation, but something seemed to hold the clouds back.

He was in the market one morning with his mother. While she was busy choosing vegetables and fish, he heard a farmer tell the grocer: “It is very worrying, my friend. A week and not a drop from the skies! I hope we are not going to have a dry spell.”

“A dry spell? Here? Impossible, brother,” the grocer answered. “It’s the monsoons, after all. The last drought was in my childhood, about thirty years ago. Don’t worry.”

“Hmm, we farmers will always have nightmares about drought,” the old farmer said, lines of worry on his forehead. Gopi saw that the man seemed as if his skin was turning into soil gradually. He smelt of crop. “My wife is praying regularly to the rain god. We have six little mouths to feed, you see.”

What flummoxed Gopi was that there were people who pray for rain! He stood stunned for a while.

Sure enough, by the end of that week the sky opened up again. In spite of him Gopi saw that the trees and the birds seemed glad. The leaves shook and danced to the tune of rain, cheaply thrilled and eager to please. He found it all very grotesque. His confusion turned to anger. He felt that his prayer had been countered with an opposite prayer, and he had lost. His petition to the real gods had been superseded by another, stronger one in favour of the rain god. In an explosion of anger he looked up at the clouds and yelled to them that they had the shape of an unmentionable body part. He told the big droplets that they were the offspring of a very disreputable animal. When it thundered he held his chest out and dared it to strike him down. He spat up at the rain only to soil his own face.

We all smiled again each time old Gopi reached this part. He often got off the parapet now to pluck a blade of grass to chew toothlessly on. He said: “I was so disgusted that my prayer was overruled, I decided to become an atheist. I secretly blasphemed by thinking ugly, perverted thoughts while looking at the pictures of gods. I told myself that if god existed, I would now be struck down by lightning. Since I wasn’t, it proved my point. God couldn’t stop rain, nor my blasphemy.

“In a few days I was missing at the prayer sessions at home in the evenings. I refused to sit down and chant mantras before the deities. I would either sneak out the kitchen door and not come in until dinner, or disappear altogether to wander in the fields. Sometimes it would drizzle to spite me further, but I ignored it. Then one evening father pulled me by the ear and made me sit down in the prayer room. He held on to my ear and even pinched it hard until I began loudly chanting the thousand names of Lord Vishnu, hot tears streaming down my cheeks. And that was how I became a theist again.”

“But did the rain god take it out on you for praying against him?” I asked, looking at the others in mirth.

“Not immediately, no,” Gopi said. “Rain wanted me to forget this whole thing so that I would be off my guard. You see, at this point I was always carrying an umbrella to be safe. My caution was a spoiler for rain.”

Adolescence did a brief turnaround in his thinking. At about fourteen, Gopi became very proud of his logical side. He was beginning to study a bit of science in school and he started telling some close friends: “You know, when I was little I thought there was a rain god. I even thought he was my enemy.” At this time mythology became cute little tales for children. For more serious people there were things like the water cycle, the science behind the seasons and the slightly titled rotation of the earth. He explained these phenomena to his mother in the kitchen as she was cutting vegetables. “You know, mother, we speak as if rain has a life of its own. We do poojas and rituals to please it! Actually it is all explained in science.” His mother would feign interest and wonder if this boy hadn’t spent enough time on education and if he shouldn’t now be helping his father in business.

But during one of those logical days it was sports day at school. This was the time all the boys wished to show-off their athletic prowess to the girls. Gopi set out for school dressed in all white, hair plastered to his pate with extra coconut oil so that it wouldn’t fly when he ran, shirt sleeves slightly folded up to exhibit some muscle, whistle on lips, glitter in eye and no thought of umbrella in mind.

Smirk all you like, but it is when I consider such instances that I begin to wonder if there isn’t something true about Gopi’s tale. After listening to this old man, I sometimes look up at the sky. You must, too. Especially when it begins to thunder and drizzle down unreasonably, at odd hours, spoiling your plans, catching you unawares. That’s when you see cynical faces, jeering lips and uncanny frowns up there in the clouds.

Well, so that day rain timed itself perfectly, holding back until he was too far from home to go back for his umbrella but not too near his school to be saved. Then, with a sudden burst of thunder and a couple of lines of lightning (as if merely to observe custom), it began to pour, bringing all Gopi’s coconut oil on to his face, damping the folds in his shirt sleeves, in fact sticking his shirt up to his chest so disgracefully that he might have cried had he been a little younger. For good measure a rusty old car screamed past just then, splashing a quickly-formed puddle up to his nose. Rain washed away all science and logic, so that Gopi looked up and observed under his breath how a particular cloud resembled a piece of something we all put out every day but do not refer to in polite society.

It was surprising, because that day he suddenly remembered his old prayer in Ambalakkavu, beginning: “O supreme lords, masters of all creation.” He remembered it in its entirety, and chanted it continuously like a madman.

A few days later Gopi’s father planted a few vegetable seeds in their backyard, and towards evening looked up at the skies, his hands cupped at his brow. “Damned rain,” he said. “Won’t come when you need it. It would be so great if it rained now. These seeds will simply grow like magic.” His mother reminded him that it was better to water the plants as usual, because it wasn’t the season for rains. That cloudburst a few days earlier was just accidental.

Hearing this, Gopi came out on to the backyard and said, “Father, you want it to rain? Observe.” He went in and picked the umbrella, hid it behind an old cupboard, came out again to the backyard and began to act as if he was playing a role in a skit. “Oh, oh my god, no! I have forgotten my umbrella again. Please god, let it not rain now.”

His father looked at him, stunned, and then at his mother to seek an explanation. The sky remained stony and bright, looking surprised.

“My umbrella, oh no! What an ass I am,” Gopi provoked again, waving his arms about, looking as if with fear at a lone cloud. Two birds flitted across.

“What are…,” his father began, but he discreetly gestured for him to stay quiet.

“Just for today, O Rain God, you real, real god, spare me, spare me,” he wailed. But when he looked up, the cloud above was drifting away incredulously.

After five minutes Gopi walked indoors, angrily muttering: “Won’t work. Of course, what was I thinking? Rain is cleverer after so many years.”

Behind him he heard his father tell his mother, “No, he isn’t insane, your son. He is not a mad genius either, I tell you. He is simply stupid. That is what he is.”

In Gopi’s tales rain built on its ire as time passed, getting progressively more vindictive, sly and unpredictable. If you meet Gopi you will know, he is not a dreamer, not particularly a skeptic and far from being nutty or imaginative. Yet his affair with rain has lasted him a lifetime. I sometimes catch myself thinking that no one should hold a grudge for so long. At some point he ought to have made it up with rain, replaced all those expletives with a simple statement that there had been intolerance and stubbornness on both sides, that perhaps they should let bygones be bygones and become friends. I once even spoke this out aloud near the parapet, and Jaleel Ikka, the youngest old man among us, looked at me in full amusement, observing that in old age madness became contagious.

There are plenty more instances that Gopi indulges us with; from the time rain washed down the new concrete when he was building his own house, to when it gave him a fever just before a vital ceremony involving his father’s death, to the time it made him slip and fall off his scooter to fracture an arm. I can someday make this into a novel, but for this story I must come to the last anecdote with which he always ends his recollections. This was when he was a young man and had started to go to the city every day for work as a cashier in a small restaurant. He would take the morning bus to work but during those days there was no direct vehicle for the return. You could take a taxi-jeep for most of the distance and then wait at an abandoned shed by the roadside for some tractor to come by and give you a ride for a small fare.

It was in this abandoned shed that Gopi discovered love.

She stood in it suddenly one day like a peacock in a dull landscape. He was taken aback by such beauty in the midst of such abandon, and he later regretted staring tactlessly on that first meeting. When a tractor came he tried to help her up but she refused his extended arm.

From then on she was there every evening when he returned from the city and he soon realized that she in fact came till there in the same bus. He made it a practice to extend his arm in the tractor every single day, because if all this were a movie she would one day take his arm without preamble and that would mean they had become lovers. She had lovely hair that flew to her lips at times, and the days she forgot to apply her kajal she was even more beautiful. He struggled to find out where in our town she lived, but he always lost her in the marketplace where the tractors dropped them.

After many days of standing together in the shed he quietly ventured to ask her, “What’s your name?”

She looked at him with some scorn and said: “Watermelon.”

“Oh. And in the city you work? Or study?”

“I sit on eggs in the central square so that they can become chicks.”

He did not understand her needless scorn. So the next day he did not try to help her up on the tractor, expressing his displeasure. But the day after that he told himself she was just very fun-loving and jocular, a quality that went alluringly well with her looks. He again began extending his arm down for her, and she again refused it every evening. By now he was beginning to dream about her behind his desk in the restaurant. In the bus he often saw her sitting in front and he imagined that he caught the aroma of her hair drifting back to him in the wind. In his mind he called her watermelon, and smiled fondly.

Then one day when they were waiting in the shed it began to rain, predictably when he had forgotten his umbrella. His heart racing, he saw that she had no umbrella either. Now, this shed we are talking about had only a thin strip of asbestos in a corner that could hold back the rain. They both stood under it and, though not exactly crowded, her mild awkwardness at having to share a corner gave him immense pleasure.

But rapidly her awkwardness gave way to nervousness, then fear. The trouble was that the sun would go down in some time and no tractor seemed to be coming. Neither was rain showing any signs of letting up.

“My name is Kavitha,” she said, her voice pitched up in a girly manner to be heard over the downpour.

“What?” he said, pretending not to hear.

“Kavitha!” she squealed again, realizing at the same time that he was teasing her.

“I work in a garment factory,” she shouted through the patter of rain which seemed to be helping Gopi today. “I live by the old cinema theatre. Now how do we go from here?”

“No vehicle will come by now, not in this rain I think,” Gopi yelled back with more seriousness, because he thought she might start to cry. The thick clouds had hidden the sun already, in a threatening parody of nightfall. He fought the incredible urge to hug her close and tell her she was safe with him. “We could walk the rest of the way if we had an umbrella …” then, as her eyes shone, he added: “Two umbrellas.”

She smiled in spite of her nervousness.

Then he had an idea. “There is no point in waiting any longer. It’ll be dark soon.” He reached up and touched the single asbestos sheet, which easily came loose. He caught himself wishing it was just above reach so that he could lift her up like in the movies.

So that evening they walked all the way home carrying the asbestos sheet over their heads between them like construction workers, she in front and he at the back because he told her he needed to watch her for her own safety. “There are rabid dogs in these parts,” he threw in for effect. For the entire two kilometres he did watch her back, falling more and more in love as rain helped by keeping its tempo up. The road seemed to have a layer of smoke just above it so that it was almost as if they were walking on clouds.

It was a long time after his childhood enmity with rain and he smiled when he thought about it. He could remember every word of the chant he had invented at Ambalakkavu that night when he was nine. He thought in amusement that perhaps after all these years rain was taking the initiative of patching things up! Its sudden appearance now had certainly helped his case immensely.

From the next day they spoke to each other in the shed and he called her “Kavitha” as often as he could with a newfound familiarity that bordered on ownership. She even took his hand initially to climb up on to the tractors, but then one day soon she told him that people would see it and make stories about them. When he asked if there wouldn’t be some truth in such stories, she smiled and he was relieved.

They got married a year later. Though initially her father had proved an obstacle, it was clear that his family was the wealthier one. His own father was secretly relieved because he had always thought that no girl would ever settle for him. When Gopi got himself a better job as a manager in a bigger hotel in the city, the families came together and finalized things. All through the wedding it rained.

At this point, again, most of us begin to snigger though I always try to maintain an equanimous expression out of fear that Gopi might be offended. I know I needn’t fear, though. Gopi himself sports a twinkle in his old, watery eyes when he goes over this part. Why, just yesterday he told us all this again and laughed out loud when postmaster Mathai began to smile.

“Not just the wedding, it rained throughout what you might call our honeymoon,” Gopi said, pulling a beedi out of his shirt pocket.

“She’ll smell it on you,” I warned.

“Hah!” he said all warrior-like, but he didn’t light the beedi. He only sniffed at it, his wrinkled nose wrinkling more.

Gopi has often told us that he did experience true happiness during his newly-married days, but there were also surprises aplenty. Three days after their wedding he took her to the city, to the same hotel where he worked, to give her a sample of how rich folk dined. He had kept some money aside for this. But the romance in his head vaporized somewhat when Kavitha polished a shocking amount of rice, more pieces of fried chicken than a man could eat and three ice-creams of different flavours. He could see the waiters, who were his subordinates, nudge each other and giggle and build a story for later.

This behavior was borne out of one curious trend, which I have seen in many of our families. Gopi, too, learned it soon after his marriage. It was simply that his wife Kavitha had a mother who had always taught her, right from when she was very small, that the whole point of a girl’s life was to get married. You needed to work towards it, she said. You needed to observe certain rules. Eat less so that you don’t put on weight, talk softly as becomes a girl of good upbringing, do not show your teeth while laughing, do not stare at people however curious they make you, avoid talking or laughing loudly in the presence of young men, always show an interest in womanly duties like washing vessels and cleaning the table, never come out of your room in the morning without taking a bath first, and many more. Her mother told her that it was tough observing all these, yes, but the reward was that you needed to observe them only until you were married. The moment you tied the knot – provided you tied it on the right man – you were free. All the effort towards getting a good husband would have paid off then, and you had a lifetime of relaxation ahead.

Now that Kavitha was married, she was free. During the months following the wedding Gopi saw that his wife was exercising her newfound freedom almost every moment, rapidly letting go the beautiful, nubile girl he had fallen for. She was turning into a loud, argumentative woman who very frequently exhibited unwarranted scorn, regularly overate, hated all idea of romance, and expressly tried to be brash and unshy. She slept until late every day, so that she was often asleep when he left. She spoke boldly to his father, back answered to his mother and finally forced Gopi to leave his parents for a rented house in the city. She was too forward and patronizing with his friends, so that he stopped bringing them home.

We so perfectly understood what Gopi was saying then, and Neelu would often ask, his eyes all shiny from being a sport: “So did she love you … like a man?”

“This isn’t to say she did not love me,” Gopi answers. “She always had her raw, matter-of-fact way of loving me. But it was a crude sort of love, not like the one they sang about as they ran around trees in those old films.”

In less than two years post marriage, Kavitha had grown fat and the young, irresistibly beautiful girl whose neck and waist he had observed under the asbestos sheet on a rainy evening was faded far into memory. At times she in fact appeared repulsive to him, especially when she burped after a meal or appeared unwashed in the mornings on holidays.

Since the risk of Gopi himself reading this someday is negligible, I might as well tell you that indeed his wife is quite the ultimate blow that rain has dealt him. I know enough of their history to know that about five years after their wedding Gopi briefly tried to become an alcoholic. He drank more than he could take, vomited in public, lost his job and generally wrecked their finances to crisis levels. Kavitha calmly called her father, had him pick her up from the city and went to her home, where she stayed for over a year. Gopi gradually discovered that he wasn’t the type to turn to alcohol completely (“You need to be born an alcoholic,” he often said with grave emphasis). He was a man with soft, romantic notions, landed with a wife who was just the opposite. Coming to terms with this central paradox of his life, Gopi then came back to our little town, begged Kavitha’s forgiveness, begged her parent’s forgiveness, even cried some, and was reunited with her. But her father imposed the condition that they mustn’t leave for the city again. He needed Gopi where he could keep an eye on him. And that was how Gopi became our librarian. He had been that for countless years, until he finally retired many years ago.

Only last week we sat in Gopi’s porch and Kavitha brought us all coffee in little tumblers. She has grown slimmer now, her white skin hanging off her like a candle melting away. After we were all served, Gopi reached out for his tumbler, but it wasn’t there. When he asked her about it she turned sharply and spoke with the sound a sword might make in the air.

“No coffee for you after seven! I cannot have you sit up all night, pissing all around the toilet every half hour saying you can’t sleep. I need my sleep, I work hard. Not all of us can sit on a parapet the whole day and gossip.”

Gopi turned red as she went indoors, but when it immediately started raining he relaxed. Sridharan Vakkeel began to laugh. I joined in and soon everyone was laughing and everyone was relieved. Gopi pointed towards the door through which Kavitha had gone and whispered, “This is why we never had children”. That gave us fresh bouts of laughter as rain drummed its fingers on the roof. We knew that after we left, and after the downpour let up, Gopi would look up at the sky and let loose a volley of abuses. He was too old to outshout rain, he said, which was still as young as when he was a boy.

I know that on the day Gopi dies it will rain big, warm droplets. There will be that understanding and near-respect that usually develops between longtime foes. Through the steady patter we will almost hear his weak, phlegmy voice: “Bastard rain. Bugs me even on the day I’m leaving.”

***