Here Comes the Rain

Here comes the Rain

The little radio on top of my refrigerator announced this morning that what we are experiencing is ‘tropical heat’. There’s a storm brewing. An unruly, wanton wind threatens to lift up my short dress to dangerous levels. Bicycling as best as I can, I try to hold it down with one hand. There’s a man walking his dog that takes a look at me, makes a loud remark and laughs. But the wind has picked it up and flung it in a direction that I am not cycling in. Well, anyway he did enjoy himself. There are on average about 2 – 5 days every summer when the temperature reaches the 30-degree mark. Today is one of them and at the end of it, there’s going to be rain, thunder and lightening. We’ve been warned about this.

The first couple of summers after moving to the Netherlands, I draped myself in my loose, cotton colors from India. The wind blew through them, as I cycled, making me feel like a bird about to take off in flight. It was an unsettling feeling. Most other people took their clothes off – as much as possible. I used to laugh and say, I celebrate the sun with flowing cottons and color, they with bare skins. When I lived in India and saw images of hundreds and thousands of ‘Western’ people lying on beaches, I never quite got the idea. Three years after I moved here, I went to Corsica for a short holiday. I watched my friend topless in the sea, her skin glittering in the sun. I envied her. On the second day of my holiday I got myself a bikini and joined the others with my mat in the sand. As I alternated between the waves in the sea and lying on the sand, my body celebrated by rocking in the solid sand as if still in the water, with the sun entering me from every pore. Thoughts floated by, like clouds on a blue sky, without making any impact. In India they call this state of mind ‘meditation’.

I gave away most of my flowing cotton colors to a friend who was traveling often to Bangladesh in those years. In their place, I got a cheap short, tight fitting dress with ‘noodle’ straps in the neighborhood bazaar from the stall of an elderly Sardar with a blue turban. He told me he was called Prem which means ‘love’ in Hindi. When we heard my name and realized we belong to the same caste, he wanted to make a date with me. I kept my eyes fixed on the off white dress with big red flowers in shiny satin material. I had to use my judgment of the size by placing it against my body in the open- air market. Prem made me really nervous, with his enthusiastic invitations to tea. What was going on in his mind about the lady from ‘back home’ who wore skimpy satin dresses?

I didn’t wait to find out. I felt pushed to decide about that dress. Would never have worn anything like it in India. Would have looked at it thought, ‘ that cheap made in China dress is not my thing’. There, two categories of women let their legs be seen. Those working as laborers on construction sites and the ‘hi-fi’ as the cream of upper class ladies were generally referred to. Here, it caught my eye and called out to me.

I had fled Prem and the market but I wore his satin dress through that summer. It fit me perfectly. I took it to Mumbai on one of my hectic frazzled trips. Went shopping for dress materials in colors that only India knows how to express. I found another Sardar with another turban and a tailoring business whose name was Harinder. ‘You can call me Harry’, he said. I gave Harry Prem’s dress and said, ‘copy it’. He did, and did a wonderful job of it.

I brought back my dazzling cotton colors in their new avatar as ‘noodle strap’ dresses to Amsterdam. I’m now a complete convert to the short dress with a tight fit. Preferably with ‘noodle straps’. I watch my knees from my bicycle seat. They catch the sun and gleam as they rise and fall, rise and fall. My bare browned arms hold the steer steadily as I move forward. I feel myself as a bird in balance.

Nandini Bedi

August – 2009