Memories of Rain

This novel tells the story - partly through the events of one weekend, partly through flashback - of a marriage between an Indian girl and an Englishman. Caught in the clash of two cultures, their love has become mired in the pain of infidelity and misunderstanding ...

He hears the wind, through muffled wool, as he has never heard it before, where is the child, and yet the cocoon of tweed and leather has an amniotic allure, he feels a deep peace gather within him, it is long since he has confined himself in so small a space, not since, perhaps, when in Amrita's grand mansion, he had stepped into a stately almirah, curious whether it would contain his length, and a great gust of monsoon wind had slammed shut the door, his first encounter with tropical dark, in the belly of an almirah, sandalwood-scented, his foot had fallen upon a prickly object, in the light, a dried orange, its ravaged flesh studded with cloves.

Fields of rape, and warm thick mustard, rinsed tortured gray, he has captured the raucous green of the tropics in a matte of gray, black clouds hang over a flooded tropical garden, the crumbling stone statuettes drowning in blind mud, a gray sheet of rain, and he would have turned his wet eyes to the damp marble halls, the tender shadows of her face weaving like raw wine through his turgid mind, the gray lions choke upon the dead petals that the sea of black filth leaves upon their stoic nostrils, they stare in blind blurred grief through the curtain of rain, most of these photographs are hopelessly indistinct, for his eyes, keen with new exhileration had seen much more than his camera lens, the cold precise objectivity was gnawed by a sense of the unreal, for he felt on that day that he had penetrated the very spirit of life in this city, the very essence of their culture had been revealed to him in the few dense hours he had gazed upon the rain-swollen curve of her mouth, this was what he had come to discover, to feel, the inebriation of tropical rain upon his skin, the sensual exchange of poetry on a thunderous evening, oh, if he could only draw his lips through the velvet valley of her hair, his experience of the tropics would be complete, if he could only once graze the succulence of her lips, a manservant brings him a plate of sliced mango, he bites gratefully into the fragrant felsh, the thick juices soothe his throat, inexplicably parched in contrast to the saturation of his skin, his rain-raw eyes, Amrita's mother-in-law emerges from the damp interior, shivering, he asks her for water, she smiles, we say that water should never be taken after fruit, why, he asked Moni tonight, remembering this piece of curious advice as she regaled them with amusing proverbs, and she had ascribed it to nothing more than the unlucky phonic resemblance between the words for fruit and water in Bengali, although she admitted that a glass of water after bananas always made her a little queasy, and like a tremor of warm music the image quivered within him, of the old lady smoothing back her damp hair, in the long dusky veranda, he had held his sticky fingers out to the rain, and told her, I cannot tell you how happy I feel today, he held out both hands through the grille, the woman shuddered, in this rain, how can you feel so ecstatic in this rain, she asked, this rain is ravishing he told her, this rain is like an inexhaustible torrent of love ...



"My novel Memories of Rain is an examination of the dependence of Bengali culture on the towering figure of the poet Rabindranath Tagore. At the time that I wrote the book, I saw it is a relationship which was extremely enriching and nourishing and yet tragically also somewhat confining. The original title of the novel The Dregs of a Poet’s Dream (naturally instantly rejected by the publishers) was meant to reflect how the culture itself had also failed him.

Tagore was a huge figure internationally as well as in Bengal. He won the Nobel Prize in 1913 and was offered a knighthood, which he refused.

Tagore has had a profound influence on me.. His songs were sung daily in my home by my father who was an accomplished singer.   There are more than 2,000 songs in all, which are known by the collective title of The Rabindrasangeet.

“The poet’s songs were collected into those of devotion, and those of love and nature, earthly delights, the distinction confused her, many a time she had searched futilely among the love songs for one that lay buried in the volume of devotional lyrics and yet inspired within her a deep physical longing, beyond the thin line that divides death from life, you stand, my friend, she had dignified her parched desire on evenings, shut in her room to practice her music, with songs that the poet had offered to his God, give me not merely your poetry, soothe me with your hands, how do I quench this deathly thirst, the fatigue of this long road, oh, the darkness is full of you, grace me with your touch, my friend, my love, my heart longs to give, not merely to receive, it breaks under the weight of all that it has gathered, give me your hand, I will hold it, fill it, keep it close, this long and lonely journey I will fill with beauty……” 

Tagore’s many literary works – poems, short stories, novels - featured regularly in our lives – from the most humble of conversations to grand lectures by persons of great eminence.  However, Tagore was also a profoundly philosophical person with very cogent ideas about education and politics grounded in rationalism. He played, for example, a key role in the freedom movement and strongly opposed Gandhi’s sense of a spiritual identity for India. He wanted freedom to be set within the framework of a rationalist discourse rather than some quasi-religious idea of The Motherland.  I believe that Tagore’s philosophy (or at least his insistence on having a philosophy) had as much of an impact upon me as his exquisite poetry and often quite experimental prose.

The starting point for Memories of Rain was a production I saw of Medea, translated by Brendan Kennelly. I’d always wanted to write about a quiet, intelligent and extremely dignified Bengali woman – a kind of womanhood that was almost prescribed as an ideal by Tagore, and something I had aspired to myself once - who comes to live in this country as someone’s wife rather than on her own terms. Watching Medea, I was moved by her dependence on Jason, and particularly how he defined this dependence as being beneficial not just to him but also to her.  Eventually, it widened into an exploration of the Bengali culture itself as I had experienced it,, but it is no way autobiographical, as many people convinced themselves it was.

Memories of Rain was labelled as experimental and multicultural.  The first perplexed me, and the latter irritated me. I find multiculturalism – as it is currently practised - to be the product of anxiety, just like political correctness. Spiritual advancement does not magically and automatically emerge from the meeting of two cultures. In Bengal in the late 18th Century, two cultures met and something unique did emerge, but it didn’t come about through Bengalis suddenly celebrating Christmas. Multiculturalism is used as a label for marketing purposes. It is nothing but a foolish statement of intent. Implicit within it is the concept that it is better to be multi rather than mono, which is the biggest lie I’ve ever come across. It’s also a facile interpretation of the word “culture”. Culture is not about bhangra dances in Community Halls. If anything multiculturalism ghettoises people and stops them from building a culture. Pasting elements of people’s ancestral culture onto them, simply reinforces the idea that British culture, the culture of the country where they were born doesn’t actually belong to them. It runs counter to any idea of integration.

This said, Memories of Rain is very clearly for me a celebration of my culture, and is recklessly adorned with my own personal translations of a number of Tagore songs that are central to my sensibilities."














© six point quad