In the last one year, I saw the four seasons of New Jersey – fall, winter, spring and summer. Although we have those seasons in India, the seasons here are completely different from their Indian counterparts (Bengal counterparts, to be more accurate).
Let me start with fall because that is the first season I saw here. In Bengal the period between September and November is autumn, not fall, and the only distinguishing thing that can be said about that season is that it is full of festivals. Nature dresses up in kaash and shiuli after the rains and we have Durga Puja and Diwali. Most people are happy because the cold season is coming in a hot country. Here in the US, however, fall is an entirely different matter altogether. There is a growing chill in the air, just like in Bengal, and the festival season arrives with Halloween, but that’s about where the similarity ends. The thing that overwhelms one in fall is of course raining leaves – tons and tons of it. All vegetation turns bright red as if with a flick of some invisible wand. Then as the trees go bare and the mercury plummets, most people’s spirits head downwards too because the cold season is coming in a cold country.
Then winter arrives with its white blanket of snow. I have seen winters in Allahabad, and I have seen winters in warmer places like Kolkata and Hyderabad, but here in the northeast of United States winter is so different from the winters back there that it is hardly recognizable as the same season. The temperature, for one thing, is about 20 degrees lower at all times than the minimum temperature that the plains of Bengal have ever seen. The cold literally bites at bare body parts. Then there is the snow which engulfs everything in sight for several months. All ponds and small lakes freeze up, and even when you walk on the uncovered ground, you can clearly feel the crunchy hardness beneath the grass. No picnics and zoo trips like back home in Kolkata – those can only be done in the summer here.
After winter’s torture is over, spring arrives to free the bare vegetation from the shackles of snow. Within a matter of days all nature bursts forth in a multitude of blooms. Spring brings flowers in Bengal too, but I have never seen large trees get completely covered with flowers there. And all trees, shrubs, herbs and creepers participate in that bloomfest. If spring back home was like the fireworks we burnt at our house on Diwali, then spring here is like the July 4th fireworks show in New York. There’s simply no comparison.
Then comes summer, and this time it is my home country’s turn to win. The summer here is mild and meek, almost ashamed of its existence, and the temperature falls to Indian-winter-like levels after a few hours of rain. A sunny day is usually just right for outdoor activity and between this season and the blast furnace like heat of India there is no similarity at all.
So is there any element of weather here which reminds me of my home? Does New Jersey, in any season or any kind of weather feel just like Hooghly? Strangely, it does.
When the skies darken with thunderclouds and cool breeze announces rain, it feels just like the rainy season in Bengal. When the first drops of rain hit the parched ground after a dry spell, it smells just like India. And when the skies are ripped apart by flashes of lightning and thunder shakes the windowpanes, I can close my eyes and imagine myself back home and close to Nature. Yes, being close to Nature is one thing that I severely miss here. Although Nature is the last thing I want to be close to when it is covered in snow here, and being bitten by mosquitoes back home does not feel too soothing either, most of the other times I prefer the natural air to air conditioning. Here in the USA there is only one weather indoors, and whether it is 35 degrees outside or -15, indoors it is a comfortable 20. All times of the day. All the year round. And that is one of the reasons why the rain here feels so much more like the rain back home. A dark sky is one of the things that can be felt even inside a climate-controlled house during the day, and thunder, lightning and heavy rain are the few weather phenomena that make you look up and gaze outside the window when you are sitting inside double-paned windows that shut out most other sound. A thunderstorm here makes me feel as vulnerable here as in India, maybe more because we live in wooden houses here. And if I am outdoors, the feeling is even more pronounced. I was stuck amidst a thunderstorm and torrential downpour last Sunday in New York City. At the time, I was on 42nd Street – New York’s Theatre District and a block from Times Square which is a place as dissimilar to Kolkata (or any place I’ve ever been to) as possible. But as soon as the rain came down, the holiday crowd scattered dragging their overturned umbrellas and the rain wiped out everything on all sides barring the nearest buildings. The place which was the symbol of modernity with its tall neon signs and skyscrapers a few minutes ago wore almost the same look that my hometown does with its swaying coconut trees in such heavy rain. And soon, puddles had formed on roadsides reminding one of Indian cities.
Another reason that makes the rain more like that in India is the change that comes over Nature after the rain. Although I am told that there is no rainy season in this part of the US, nobody would have been able to tell that looking at the weather this year. This year it has rained throughout summer – June didn’t even have one dry week and it is still raining every few days. But if we leave aside the question of whether it is normal, what we do get is a lot of greenery. The fields become soggy with mud, mushrooms pop up everywhere and the tree-trunks, walls and the corners of the sidewalk are covered in a green layer of algae. Even mosquitoes arrive, though we don’t allow them indoors, and if I return home around dusk, I find fireflies flying around bushes – a sight that I haven’t seen anywhere other than Hooghly.
So I am not complaining about the rain as much as everyone else is doing. Although I hate a sunny day of outing to be spoilt just like the others do, and also hate to get wet while going to work, I enjoy the rain at certain times. For example, if it rains in the evening and I get a little wet while coming home, I don’t feel too bad, because nothing can beat the fun of having a cup of ginger-tea and some hot pakoras after I dry off. I love to see and hear the rain when I don’t have to go out, and I can relax with a Wodehouse in my room. And sometimes, I also love the rain during some weekends when I am too tired to go out but not too tired to cook khichuri and some fried fish. I really enjoy the rainy weather at such times because it is the closest thing to Indian weather that I get here. Besides, I love thunder and lightning.
Unless I am in a position to get struck, that is.