There is something so sublime about midsummer thunderstorms. There is something sublime about thunderstorms in general, but the Lahori kind are truly peerless. You can sense them the minute you get up in the morning – it’s the typically sweltering, stuporous May day, yet somewhere in the muggy stillness there stirs a mutinous little wind; a dusty leaf twirls over your head as you walk towards wherever you must go in the feverish afternoon heat; an indiscernible orangeness seeps into the sky; and you know that something’s going to happen tonight.
In our part of the world, and especially in our childhood, nursery rhymes like “Rain, rain, go away / Little Johnny wants to play” have never really made sense. We don’t have any use for bright sunny summer days when our particular Sun habitually loses his head every season and starts pushing temperatures beyond the 45ºC limit. We also don’t appreciate sinister-looking crop-circles scarring our beautiful green lawn. Most of all, bouncy 10-year old human children really don’t like being imprisoned by forbidding Daadis and Buas in boring AC rooms with just Tom and Jerry cartoons for company for the entire duration of their summer holidays because of creatures called Churails, who, in our part of the world, have an indisputable monopoly over summer afternoons (3 o’ clock being a particularly lethal hour). Now any amount of outdoor frolic is certainly not worth bumping into a Picchal Peri who, so we have been told by venerable Buas, take the greatest pleasure in snacking on bouncy 10-year old human children.
So of course we think that those English nursery rhymes are nonsense. We’ve been brought up singing “Allah Mian paani dey”. We hold communal prayers at masjids to invoke monsoon season. For us, the first distant roll of thunder is a herald from Heaven, the first drop of sweet cold water a veritable elixir of life. And when those leaden clouds finally burst apart, it doesn’t just rain, it pours, in roaring torrents that crash upon the windowpanes like hailstones – not your dull London drizzles or flaky rainbow showers, but a proper, passionate, pure-blooded thunderstorm, the kind you only find in Lahore. The fields are slaked, the roads and trees scrubbed to squeakiness, the witches and jinns dispelled, and the streets, parks and gardens once again inundated with gleeful children, sloshing through puddles, playing splashy cricket, maiming earthworms and getting thoroughly and gloriously wet.
And then of course there are the electricity blackouts; the clogged drains and flooded roads, the doubled trees and collapsing billboards, the transformer explosions, the destroyed houses, the people killed. When we were younger, these things didn’t matter to us at all. We loved it when the lights went out – I still do – for that was the only time we got to light candles, sit together and tell stories, without any TVs and computers and exams to extort our time. But now, we’re no longer 10 years old, and a rainstorm no longer brings to us the pure uncomplicated joy that it used to. There are other things we must think about. We shouldn’t go out, we’ll fall sick. The house will get dirty. It’s not ‘proper’, we’re ‘too old’. It’s funny that we never fell sick when we were small. But then people didn’t ‘die’ when we were small either. And I don’t know whether I can truly enjoy a thunderstorm anymore knowing things like that – knowing that I’m only able to enjoy it because I live in a brick home. I only like getting soaked to the bone because I can come inside and dry myself later, and then sit on the verandah and have garam garam pakoras and French fries. I sometimes do feel guilty – but guilt isn’t such a worthwhile feeling, and it won’t save those people’s lives. I admit to myself that I can’t do anything about it; and yet I also have to admit that I can’t ever stop myself from relishing a thunderstorm. That would be unnatural.
It’s just another one of those strange paradoxes that ‘rich’ people in poor countries live with – and all I can do is pray that something that brings me so much joy not be a cause of suffering to others. Maybe it’s superficial, but it’s the only way I know to reconcile the storms.
The next day is another typical summer day. You take at least three showers (if you’re lucky and there’s cold water in the tanky), you guzzle litres of water from used Coke pet-bottles, you sit on burning car seats, scream at the loadshedding, and are terrorized again by Bua’s Churails and Picchal Peris. But there are mangoes and vanilla ice-cream, lassi, badaam ka sharbat and khuss ke coolers to make things better – and then there’s that sacred thunderstorm, just around the bend, hiding in a shadowy corner of the muggy stillness, waiting to burst asunder when you need it the most.