The Smell of Rains

Excerpt from the book ‘The House of Twining Roses: Stories of the mapped and the unmapped by NABINA DAS



It rains so uglily. Especially at this time of the year when the little American town of Beaver Springs sits under an umbrella of eastbound rains. “It is raining uglily.” Nine year-old Uma gripes in her mind. She watches the rain in movie theater-silence from the window of their three-bedroom home and wonders why the rain falls in fragmented scatters, like a dismembered body whose pieces drop one by one, obstructing cries and whispers. But need Uma be worried now? Grandpa is behind her, standing at the bedside table holding a glass of milk for her. Father is on the floor above, glued to a blue screen and a bunch of papers. Most importantly, mother is right next to her, walked down from the cabinet. Mom’s pear-shaped face highlighted by polished chestnut frames reflecting the evening’s dull light through the window. Very still. But mom smells of star fruits even now, untouched by the sandalwood incense stick grandpa has lighted in front of her photograph. As in the photo, her hair black, parted in the middle, shows a smear of red powder. Dark eyes – like Uma’s – smile. Are you as tall as me already Uma? No, perhaps not! It’s only been a year mom … Standing next to Uma she stares at the rain. Mom listen, the rain does sing ‘rimjhim, rimjhim’ to me but I can’t hear, Uma wants to tell her, but she can’t yet. She doesn’t want to remember anything ever to do with the rain. Burnt skin, mangled flesh, charred faces. No, she never wants to imagine her mother in that mess. Although, when the men in uniforms came to her dad, they said that Mrs. Nath was nowhere to be found. “No shreds of clothing. No identifying item. Sorry, Mr. Nath.”

**

Watching the rain, Uma sees herself at a busy marketplace in the huge and crowded city of Delhi they had visited last autumn. Where a big noise had drowned all other voices and sounds in its loud ‘bang’. Her jammed eardrums had reverberated like soundless strings of a musical instrument broken somewhere deep inside its belly. Her own belly then had spun and she had wailed unknowingly. “The darned thing came from a car,” an awestruck shopper had yelled. “No, from a bag!” Whimpered others whose faces had peeled off or whose arms did a solitary dangle. “Terrorists! God help us!” Screamed yet others. So much screaming. Uma had very little idea what they talked about although she recognized the frantic shopkeeper who ran to her. Uma and her mother had gone into his shop to buy coconut candies and fritters that they never got to eat. Her mother wasn’t around. And Scruffy Man? Did he get to his kids that evening? Maybe not.

She sighs. It isn’t nice remembering all this.

That Indian autumn was as crisp and balmy as it could be for her senses, like fresh fried fritters. Visiting her grandparents in Delhi, Uma was excited to learn about Diwali while shopping in the crowded marketplace where it looked like half of Beaver Springs could fit in there. She knew a bit about Diwali. Every Diwali her friends were encouraged to share stories in the Beaver Springs community hall, especially those that had already been to their cousins’ and uncle’s homes in cities that were oceans away, with interesting names like Indore, Bombay or Lucknow. Even a sparkler-sounding name – Trichy! Uma knew folks waited to celebrate every year after summer had passed and winter was still to arrive. That’s when the stores spilled with people and goodies and now she knows, with laughter morphed to wails and rain congealed as blood. “What do terrorists eat daddy?” She had wanted to ask later. “Were they angry because they didn’t have enough sweets and candies like us rest?” Dad didn’t reply, instead asked impatiently: “Did you see something Uma? You remember anything? About mom?” She kept quiet. She cried.

Nabina Das’ debut poetry collection Blue Vessel (Zaporogue, Denmark) has been named one of the best poetry books of 2012, and the debut novel Footprints in the Bajra (Cedar Books, New Delhi) was longlisted in the prestigious Indian prize “Vodafone Crossword Book Award 2011”. A 2012 Charles Wallace Fellow in Creative Writing, University of Stirling, UK, and a 2012 Sangam House Lavanya Sankaran Fiction Fellow, India, her second poetry collection Into the Migrant City, the product of an Associate Fellowship and residency with Sarai-CSDS (New Delhi) in 2010, is forthcoming soon from Writers Workshop, India. Nabina’s poetry and prose have been published in several international journals and anthologies, the latest being Prairie Schooner (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) The Yellow Nib: Modern English Poetry by Indians (Queen’s University, Belfast). Nabina is also a literary columnist to Prairie Schooner blog and is in the peer review committee of The Four Quarters Magazine literary journal published from northeast India. Nabina has won prizes in various major Indian poetry contests. A 2007 Joan Jakobson fiction scholar (Wesleyan University, US) and 2007 Julio Lobo fiction scholar (Lesley University, US), she has worked in journalism and media for about 10 years (The Ithaca Journal, US; Tehelka news portal, Delhi). Trained in Indian classical music, she has performed in radio/TV programs and performed in street theater. Nabina blogs at nabinadas13.wordpress.com and teaches Creative Writing in classrooms and workshops.