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The Coming Storm

Mumbai cloudsMUMBAI—There were drops of rain on the windscreen this morning. The surface of the Sea Link bridge was wet and there were towering grey clouds in the near distance pierced by light grey rays of sunlight. The news tells of rain in the countryside, rain to the east, rain in Sri Lanka. The official start date of the monsoon is June 10, just days away, but aside from a drop here and there, it is dry. Each morning I wake before dawn. There are clouds to the north, clouds to the east, and the scent of something like storms on the morning wind.

Last year the rains began as we were told they would. They came for days on end, obliterating the boundary between water and air. Streets flooded, trains stopped running, and we settled in for the long haul. Then they stopped . “This is usual,” people said with confident authority, “The rains cease for several days then come back even harder.” But the rains didn’t come again. The monsoon failed. People talked of how the crops would not grow, how ruined farmers would die by their own hand, how the hot season would be even more unbearable, parching a soon to be withered land. The rains never did come again. They stopped 10 or 11 months ago and it has barely rained since. The land is parched and withered. Farmers have killed themselves. Streets melt and lakes dry up.

There is something about this time of year, some strange energy. Last year I blamed it on a particularly malignant case of jet lag and a bad reaction to the anti-malaria drugs I was taking. I couldn’t sleep. I felt sick and dizzy and, at the same time, as if I were jacked into the energy web of Mumbai itself. My body vibrated with strange tension, connected directly to the manic life all around me even as I lay in bed. Nights were spent awake or in a semi- lucid state of fatigue-altered consciousness. Days were dreamlike, nightmarish times of heat and light and sweat, until I felt not only ill but half-mad. Finally I realized it was the malaria medicine. I stopped taking the mefloquine and the worst symptoms subsided in days. It was jetlag as well and, minus the toxic effects of the malaria drugs, I finally began sleeping normally, sleeping to the roaring white noise of the rain outside. I began to sleep and heal and adjust.

But now it is time again for the monsoon and I feel much as I did a year ago. The awful symptoms of the mefloquine are long gone as is the disorientation of the jetlag. I have acclimated to the heat and rarely get sick. But that strange feeling of being electrified has returned. The days pass in a heat-stunned daze then, come evening, I am wide awake. I lie in bed and when I do sleep I know I am asleep. It feels as if Mumbai and India and Asia are one enormous capacitor storing up energy, building up a charge of heat and light and human friction and that I am in the middle of that humming, sparking thing. And, like last year, and all the years before, there will be no relief until the stored energy is discharged in the cataclysm of water and storm called the monsoon.

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