In Delhi, in the seventies, we used to look out for sunsets in the monsoon and post-monsoon months of August and September without fail. In a big and dry city like Delhi, rain was incredibly energetic. It was always a bonus; it brought high spirits, and it spelt romance. Spells of rain never lasted too long, and when they ended by evening, we got the additional treat of a sunset to enjoy and remember.
Evening curfew for a young girl like me in those days was lighting-up time. As soon as the street lights came on, I had to be home. What lovely late evening twilights we had. The light would fade slowly and grandly out of the sky, lingering until the clouds and trees were dark silhouettes. In my imagination, those banked up clouds on the horizon, black and purple masses, were mountains. The return home at the street light hour was followed by prayers in the back verandah. The puja was in the store room that opened off it. The back verandah would be lit only by the fading daylight and the storeroom was beautiful in the dark. It was comforting and yet exciting, and there were many smells that filled it: the sharp smell of the scrubbed brass villakku or the smoky smell of burnt oil wicks, the scent of goodies stored in big biscuit tins, and agarbatti, which dominated, and then took over my senses with its calming effect so that my troubles -- homework undone or a test the next day-- would be washed away. Only the comfort and the safety of my parents' home would remain.
It was remarkable that one could connect to nature in such a profound way in the heart of Delhi.
That was a long time ago, and the habit of enjoying a few quiet moments gathering one's thoughts at the end of the day remains. On some evenings, the day seems to die, and it has a melancholy feel. On other days, there is only a feeling of peace. Today, I was sitting outside our house and looking at the Bhutan Himalayas, purple and black masses against the Northern sky, and I dreamed they were the clouds of my Delhi childhood. One peak stood out sharply defined, perfectly symmetrical, and in the foreground, a gulmohar leaf swayed in the silent breeze. It could have been a calendar picture of Mt.Fuji with a leaf etching in front.
It rained all afternoon after an incredibly hot and sticky morning. The thunder was deafening and it was a really dramatic, high intensity storm. It cleared the air magically. By four o'clock, the sky was washed blue and the hills stood out in clear relief. I walked down to the National Highway -- a straight road leads to it from my house - at about five o'clock, with my head turned right to see the hills. They were silhouettes; I couldn’t see the trees on them at all, but I could see the ranges layered out distinctly. Where the sky met the hills, it was a lighter blue than anywhere else; almost whitish, and luminous. The silence that settled around this spectacle made me imagine it was a pre-dawn scene, as if something big was about to happen soon.
Back from my walk, I sat outside on a swing, with our patient and undemanding dog Simba at my feet. There was a gentle breeze blowing. Birds had returned to their nests and fallen silent. A truck rumbled past on the highway, but it wasn’t an unwelcome sound.
The sound of children playing somewhere in the distance was missing today. It is a typical evening sound. Once I was among children who played in the evenings out in the open, watching anxiously for the lights on the lampposts. Then, as a young adult, I remember sitting and daydreaming on the front steps in the evening and listening to a sad song about a lonely man watching the children play. I sit alone now and the children who played in this garden when they were little have left home. Home and childhood may seem very far away to them too. The complete tranquility and simplicity of those childhood years is lost for ever, but at moments such as these, one can recapture traces of it.