In Canada, we are able to enjoy four distinct seasons and everyone awaits the end of a long winter, eager to gently embrace spring. So, it was quite a jolt when nature threw a curve-ball last week, with freezing rain and howling gale-force winds smiting us with ice pellets. The poor crocuses, which were just starting to break out of the frost covered hard soil must have been confounded like the rest of us! Having just returned after enjoying (suffering?) +37 degrees Celsius temperatures in India, I too reacted like the crocuses and refused to venture out of my snug home. However, my body needed to atone for several weeks of indulgences and lavish familial hospitality; it was therefore time to exercise and I was forced to resume my walks.
Late one afternoon, filled with noble resolve I strode out. It was a nice afternoon, with the weak sun playing hide and seek with gathering grey clouds. I settled into a steady saunter, pausing to watch little squirrels chasing each other, stopping suddenly to flick their bushy tails as their tiny heads deftly moved first one way and then another, mindful of any impending dangers lurking close by. They skipped lightly over lingering heaps of glistening snow that still covered shadowy patches of lawns where the sunlight had been held in check by dried-up ferns, hedges and trees. A sole soggy brown maple leaf extricated itself from under one such snowy mound and ricocheted away in the breeze heading this way and that, not unlike the squirrels. Just then, a flock of loudly honking geese passed overhead, sounding an alarm for the now ominous clouds rapidly appearing above.
Suddenly, the sky became overcast and a cool breeze started to swirl, occasionally lashing me with icy pellets. It was not quite rain, but more like mist sporadically sprayed from an atomizer. I retraced my steps, eager to get back home. As I forged ahead through the drizzle, my thoughts went back in time and I recalled a rainy evening in England.
A young man of 23, I left India for the first time and flew to London in 1977 as a bank trainee. I clearly recall that Japan Airlines flight from Delhi. It was all very intimidating and I struggled with unfamiliar controls to adjust my seat and the seat belt clasp. The air hostesses could clearly see through my act of pretending to be “hip” and gently stepped in to help without patronising me. They even got me a drink and a packet of prized Dunhill cigarettes (yes, those were the times when smoking was permitted on board!) Heathrow airport and the Immigration and Customs officials were very intimidating and in spite of having worked with English colleagues in India, I was overwhelmed by the “white” faces and their speech, which was difficult to understand. I stepped out of the airport into the annoying mist-like precipitation, which was to bug me through my stay in London. I was used to rains in India; it poured by the bucket-full and so I could not figure out how to deal with this English drizzle. I felt it would be “unmanly” to be seen sheltering under a “brolly” when there really was no rain worth the mention. So, with bravado I walked to the cab head held high but was soon reduced to a damp squib!
Some weeks later, after work I boarded what I thought was my usual evening commuter train from Waterloo station to Hampton Court. I dozed off and woke up with a start as the train pulled in to a station that was unfamiliar. On making hurried inquiries from the only other passenger in the coach, I realized my mistake and jumped out just as the train pulled out. It was a small village station and there appeared to be no one around. I waited on the dark platform for the right train to take me back. A cold wind had picked up and as I stood there alone in spitting rain without a jacket, feeling wretched and overwhelmed by a surge of loneliness, tears of helplessness welled up in my eyes. It was a relief to climb on board when the train finally arrived. I was shivering and using my handkerchief to pat my hair dry and wipe my face when a lady, possibly in her 70s approached me. She apologized for intruding and inquired if I was okay. Her benevolence struck a chord deep inside me and the dam burst. I sniffled embarrassingly, blabbering on about being new to the country and the predicament I found myself in. She smiled and patted my arm, reassuring me that everything would be just fine. She then walked back to her seat and returned with a towel pulled out from her suitcase which I gratefully accepted. She also had a thermos full of hot chocolate that helped to bring me cheer and warmth. It was an act of kindness that has stayed with me all these years.
Enjoy one of my all time favorite “rain” songs by CCR (Credence Clearwater Revival) from 1970: