One of the pleasures of the Kerala monsoon is the opportunity to sport an umbrella. And there’s nothing like the humble umbrella to kindle romance. What could be more romantic than sharing an umbrella with a significant other on a windy rain-swept evening, the light failing, both of you getting agreeably wet and feeling each other’s wetness, and the pleasant awareness that Father Time is tiptoeing along if not actually stopping and watching.
This was brought home to me one evening by what my friend John (let’s call him that) told me after a couple of vodkas had gone down the hatch. Alcohol can be both truth serum and soother of souls; for John sitting opposite me that evening, it was both.
Some years ago John was studying in Chennai, and staying in a hostel. The devout Catholic that he is, Sunday mornings were reserved for a visit to the church. On one such visit, a nun drew him aside and invited him to join the church youth group. John agreed, and on the same day was inducted into the group. The group members sat in a circle, and John introduced himself. He had come from Kerala to Chennai for a course of study.
Seated next to him was a pretty girl he’d noticed earlier in church. After the group singing and sharing of testimonies were over, they began talking, exchanging pleasantries. A little later she asked him for his phone number. He demurred, saying he had little privacy in his hostel. Just then John’s phone rang; it was a friend. No sooner had the call ended than she snatched the phone from his hand and dialed her own number from it.
Thus began a friendship sustained by the phone and covert and not-so-covert glances at each other in church. She introduced her parents to him, and they liked the handsome, polite boy. Strangely though, John never asked to take her out. Perhaps he felt the time was not ripe yet. But the relationship flowered. In the church group meetings, she invariably sat next to him. His friends began asking him if they were going to marry. But John maintained that they were just good friends.
One day she insisted that John come home for lunch. Her parents were eager to get to know him better, and a date was fixed. On the appointed day, John took the bus to her house. On the way, the skies opened and it began to rain heavily. John was not carrying an umbrella. So after getting down at his stop, he called her, asking her to come to the bus stop with an umbrella for him.
Soon she appeared — but with just one umbrella. John frowned and asked: “Did I not ask you to bring an umbrella for me too?” She tossed her head, laughing, and shot back: “Sorry! I clean forgot! We’ll just have to make do with one!”
And it was under one umbrella that they wended their way home, purring ecstatically (I like to think!) in the pouring rain. Yes, they did get a little wet, but it didn’t matter; in fact, so much the better, for they had to draw closer to each other to avoid getting wetter. And John at first didn’t know what to do with his arms, which kept getting in the way as they walked together.
But soon he learned something that anyone who has ever shared an umbrella with another person will know: Under the umbrella, there’s just one place you can comfortably rest your arm.