The room is not a study and yet it’s full of wooden bookshelves. Some have glass cases. The room is also full of farming equipment: the wooden plough carved from a mature jackfruit tree, the creels made from strips of thinly sliced bamboo and the fishing gear. Since no one sleeps in this room, there is no ceiling overhead, and the roof is high. In other rooms of this L-shaped house painted white with limestone, large, square mats, also made of bamboo, keep us warm during the winter and dry during the rainy season. It is peak summer. I am in Teteliguri—my grandmother’s village. Every summer, my parents, seeking some solitude, export me to Teteliguri from Guwahati because they can’t “control” me. Here, all I do is read in this room full of abandoned materials. I don’t need to be controlled.
We are waiting for the rains. The days are brutally hot. So hot that the buffaloes refuse to leave the mud pits at the end of the day, and restless snakes crawl out of their burrows and attack sad frogs croaking for rain. Often, the snakes also slide into the rooms in search of house mice. Once, while looking for books, I found a litter of baby mice between the hard covers of an old Assamese novel. The mother mouse had chewed away the pages to build a cosy nest between the twists and turns of the story. I took out the pink litter, spread them on the courtyard on a wooden plank, and waited for the crows.There were about 20 of them. They weren’t more than six days old since they had mild fur but were mostly hairless and hadn’t opened their eyes yet. The still suckling babies started complaining about the sun, making sounds like newly hatched chicks: pii-pii-pii! I waited patiently. “You have to hide,” the young man employed to help my uncle plough the fields told me from the granary. “The crows can see you and they are scared of coming.” I hid in the room full of old bookshelves and watched from the window. First, a large raven. The crows swooped in only when the raven left. I took great pleasure in the death of the mice babies—pink, like well-fed micro piglets. The newly hired worker picked up the plank and wiped the drops of hibiscus-red blood with his baniyan (vest) and grinned at me. Suddenly, we were friends.
I don’t remember the first time I saw this uninhabited room. I have been visiting this house since the year I was born. The walls are lined with bookshelves, stuffed with books that I shouldn’t read, as well as books I should read, and stacks of old magazines. After lunch, when my aunts and uncles leave for work, I spend my time here. When my father comes at the end of the summer holidays, my aunts complain to him that he complains about me for no reason, that all I do is read books, that I don’t trouble them. But I don’t go outside because it is too hot. I am waiting for rain.
My aunts know nothing. In the morning, one of my aunts checks the book I have taken out and leaves for work. She ensures I am not reading Bismoi, Prangan and Rahasya—the monthly pocket-sized magazines that print beautiful women on the covers, and scantily clad women on the last page. Between those two pictures there are forbidden stories. Erotic horror novellas where men living in strange guest houses end up having sex with the maid after she plays horny music on the cassette player; short stories that have long descriptions of breasts and buttocks of women in wet saris; gossip about the secret love affairs of Madhuri Dixit and Meenakshi Seshadri and Juhi Chawla, romance novellas where virgin lovers always meet after many twists and turns, and retelling of tales from the ancient epics where the love-making scenes of virtuous queens with their husbands are described in more detail than required.
The first rains are always spectacular. At first, the winds arrive, soothing the earth. This is followed by distant thunder, like the sound of gods growling and war drums. I watch the leaves fall from the branches and dance on the ground, the birds cawing in search of shelter, and I hear worried women summoning their ducks in nasal tones. The cowherds come running after the cows that run with tails high up in the air since they are scared of the war cries of the impending feisty first rains. We make paper boats and wait for the rain to grow stronger; it never stops before leaving large puddles. We sail paper boats. In the room without the ceiling, with just the tin roof, the sound of rain is deafening. On the days when the skies shower hail, we don’t go out to pick them up because they are so large, and the black umbrellas so delicate. I worry about tin roofs. I worry about the wooden almirahs and the books.
Monsoon is here. It rains all night long in Teteliguri. My grandmother used to say, if the rain starts on a Tuesday, it will stay for three days. But if it starts on a Saturday, it will not leave before a week.