Delhi Monsoons: Looking Back At A World Of Love & Longing

This ‘saavan’, I am the ‘birahini’ separated from my beloved Delhi, writes literary historian Dr Rakhshanda Jalil.

Published
Opinion
6 min read
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Having grown up in Delhi, I remember the Monsoons of my childhood as a period of unmatched joy. Cycling back from school (yes, there was a time when children could actually cycle on the roads of Delhi, that too, main roads!), I remember getting drenched in the rain and coming home with soaking wet school textbooks. But it was compensated with piping hot bhutta bought from the road side.

Being young, it was fun to get wet in the rain and watch others sheltering under the giant neem and jamun trees that lined the roads.

Later, it was a treat to pick the fallen plump jamun berries from the road or to buy some from the vendors who tossed them in tangy masala and served them in little cups fashioned out of leaves.

Another family favourite during the Monsoons was driving through pouring rain to have chaat at Sweets Corner in Sunder Nagar. The joy of pani-puri, aloo tikki or dahi papri was no match for home-made pakoras.

Delhi Monsoons: Looking Back At A World Of Love & Longing
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter / @HelloShabanaa)
Or going to the India Gate Lawns where one could run and dance, romp and play in the rain with complete abandon, for everyone else – young and old – was doing the same.

I remember boating in the shallow canal near India Gate, upturning the boat and standing in waist-high waters with a bunch of can-get-no-wetter school friends!

Delhi rains 2020.
Delhi rains 2020.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter / @advsanjoy)

‘Barkha Bahar’: A World Of Love & Longing

Now, in this endlessly extended self-distancing, as I look forlornly at the rains from a window, I draw solace from reciting rain-related poetry to rekindle the magic of those days. I am the birahini, separated from her beloved Delhi. Reading Bikat Kahani, the baramasa by Afzal Jhinjhanvi, I am transposed to a world of love and longing associated with barkha bahar, the rainy season:

Ari jab kook koel ne sunayi
Tamami tan badan mein aag lahi
Andher rain, jugnu jagmagata
Ooka jalti upar tais ka jalata?

Ah, when the cuckoo sounds her cooing
It sets my body aflame
The glow worm glows in the darkness of the night
Why does it burn one already on fire?

Delhi rains 2020.
Delhi rains 2020.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter / @Arponln)

The birahini (also spelt as virahini, literally meaning a woman who is in virah or separation) of the baramasa feels the pain of separation most keenly in the month of saawan, for it is during the rains that men traditionally stayed home or came back as business was slack, possibly because roads became un-passable.

Tradition also demanded that a young bride would be called to her parents’ home when her brother would be sent to fetch her at the beginning of the season.

Shortly after a token visit, she would return to her husband’s home and resume her conjugal life.

Of Seasons Past – And Enjoying Plentiful Rains With One’s Beloved

When there is a departure from this time-honoured way of life, when the woman finds herself alone and bereft during the months of the rains (traditionally said to last for a chuamasa, or four months), then the dark clouds, the call of the koel, the darts of rain, the smell of damp earth, the dancing peacocks, the blood-red birbahuti insects, remind her that all other women are with their husbands while she is not; she is reminded of seasons past when she had enjoyed the plentiful rains with her beloved and is tormented by the thought of his dalliances elsewhere. Different baramasas used this repertoire of images in different ways. Here’s a sampler:

Papiha de namak ghaavon ko ke pee
Ghari sahar ghari doobe mera jee

The cuckoo pours salt over my wounds and tells me to drink it
While all the while my heart sinks from minute to minute

And:

Asaarh aaya ghata chhayi gagan par
Rasawat man mera rasiya sajan par

The month of Asaar has come, the clouds cover the sky
My heart pines for my feckless beloved

Delhi rains 2020.
Delhi rains 2020.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter / @troublenaari)

When Male Urdu Poets Dropped The ‘Fake Female Voice’

With time, while male poets continued to write Urdu poetry on the rains, they dropped the vocal masquerade, and instead of the fake female voice of the baramasas, began to write as men. So, here’s Sudarshan Faakir linking barsaat with sharaab in a ghazal immortalised by Begum Akhtar:

Hum to samjhe thhe ke barsaat mein barsegi sharaab
Aai barsaat to barsaat ne dil torh diya

I had though wine would pour down during the rains
But when it came, even the rain broke my heart

A man rides through the rains in Delhi, 2020.
A man rides through the rains in Delhi, 2020.
(Photo Courtesy: Adnan Abidi/Reuters / Via Twitter / @PixiedustJtT)
Faakir weaves the same magic in his evocation of bachpan ka sawan in this haunting nazm sung by Chitra and Jagjit Singh:

Ye daulat bhi le lo ye shohrat bhi le lo
Bhale chhin lo mujh se se meri javani
Magar mujh ko lauta do woh bachpan ka saavan
Wo kaġhaz ki kashti vo barish ka paani

Take away all my wealth and fame
Rob me of my youth if you must
But bring back the rainy season of my childhood
That boat made of paper on that rainwater

Gulzar’s ‘Bheegi Bheegi Udaas Yaadein’

A contemporary poet who has written extensively on the rains is Gulzar. Here’s a sampler from his non-film ouvre, the first entitled Gali Mein (‘In the Alley’):

Baarish hoti hai to paani ko bhi lag jaate hain paaon
Dar-o-diwar se takra ke guzarta hai gali se
Aur ucchalta hai chhapakon mein
Kisi maitch mein jeete huwe ladkon ki tarah

When it rains the water acquires feet of its own
Knocking off the doors and walls, it passes through the alley
And splashes about in puddles
Like boys who have won some match!

Delhi rains 2020.
Delhi rains 2020.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter / @adil_bhat_)

And in another poem entitled ‘Seelan’ (‘Wetness’):

Bas eik hii sur mein, bas eik hi lai par subah se, dekh –
Dekh, kaise baras raha hai udaas pani
Phuwaar ke malmali dupatte se urh rahe hain
Tamaam mausam tapak raha hai
Palak palak riss rahi hai yeh kainaat saari
Har eik shai bheeg bheeg kar dekh kaise bojhal sii ho gayi hai
Dimagh ki geeli geeli sochon se
Bheegi bheegi udaas yaadein tapak rahiin hain
Thake thake se badan mein dheere dheere –
Saanson ka garm lobaan jal raha hai!

In the same tune, in the same rhythm
See how the sad rain has been falling all morning
The mulmul-like dupatta of a steady drizzle is floating
The very air is dripping
Every bit of all creation is seeping
See, how everything is soaking wet and heavy
From the wet workings of the mind
Sodden sad thoughts are dripping
The warm incense of breath is slowly smouldering
In the tired body

Do Women Write Differently About The Rains?

Read ‘Eik Ladki ke Naam’ (‘Addressed to a Young girl’) by Parveen Shakir to find out:

Ladki!
Yeh lamhe badal hain
Guzar gaye to haath kabhi nahi aaynge
Inke lams ko peetii ja
Qatra-qatra bheegti ja
Bheegti ja tu jab tak inn mein nam hai
Aur tere andar ki mitti pyasi hai
Mujhse pooch
Ke barish ko waapas aane ka rasta kabhi na yaad hua
Baal sukhaane ke mausam anparh hote hain!

Girl!
These moments are clouds
Once gone, they will never return
Drink their touch
Drop, by drop drench yourself
Soak yourself in them till you are wet
And the soil inside you is athirst
Ask me
The rains never remember the way back
The season of drying your hair is illiterate!

(Dr Rakhshanda Jalil is a writer, translator and literary historian. She writes on literature, culture and society. She runs Hindustani Awaaz, an organisation devoted to the popularisation of Urdu literature. She tweets at @RakhshandaJalil. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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