I sat in my verandah watching the dark clouds roll across the sky from horizon to horizon. Lightning flashed amidst the constant rumbling of thunder and soon the light breeze turned into brisk, almost chilly gusts that drove the heat before them. I must have fallen asleep, for a tug on my sleeve awakened me. Raindrops had begun to dot the landscape and the parched earth was exuding that unforgettable aroma that signifies grateful thanks to the clouds for slaking its thirst. I looked at the young boy, who stood beside my chair, clutching a page torn from his old copy book, asking me if I could make a boat for him. As I held the paper in my hands, a flood of memories overwhelmed me and fingers instinctively began to fold and refold the sheet into the familiar shape of a sailboat.

The first appearance of billowing black clouds in the days of yore was the signal for much eager activity. First to go up on the ‘pipal’ tree was the swing or ‘jhoola’. Thick ropes, a wooden seat and cushions were pulled out from last year’s storage followed by the sight of good old Ismail, the family cook cum expert tree climber, scampering up the huge trunk and stringing up the rope on the thick limb that had served this purpose year after year. Care was taken to wrap two cushions between the rope and the bark to ensure that the tree was not damaged by chafing. As far as we were concerned the Monsoon Season was now officially open.

Like all old colonial style bungalows, our kitchen was connected to the main house by a covered porch like passage. It was here that the rainy day ‘pakwan’ party was held. The activity was led by the grandparents with my mother and father acting as helpers. A wood burning circular stove was placed in the passage complete with a wok half filled with mustard oil, while the ‘helpers’ brought in bowls brimming with spicy ‘besan’ batter and a sweet flour mixture. The next few hours were pure ecstasy as the whole family enjoyed a feast of hot ‘pakoras’ and sweet ‘gulgulay’, while sheets of rain fell outside.

There were times, when the rains got delayed. This was the cue for local rainmakers to emerge in the walled city. Young boys wearing nothing, but a loin cloth, covered themselves in black soot and ran down the streets shouting “Kalian ittan, kalay ror. Meenh warsa de zoro zor” (Black are the bricks and black are the stones. We beseech thee send us rain in all its fury). Call it coincidence or acceptance of a fervent appeal that it usually rained after this demonstration.

Another item on our monsoon agenda was bathing in the rain. Our front and side lawns turned into shin-deep lakes after heavy downpours. It was here that we splashed about and launched the paper boats that inspired this week’s piece. The activity was irrevocably followed by a fresh water shower and a change of dry clothes as not doing so, was supposed to “breed lice in the hair”.

Another popular activity during the rains was the ice cream party. Our ice cream maker consisted of a large wooden bucket, a metal container that could be fitted in the middle and rotated with a cranking device. The ice cream mixture was put inside the metal cylinder and the empty space surrounding it filled with ice, liberally sprinkled with salt. The family took turns to crank the contraption and soon enjoyed the fruits of their labor – delicious, smooth ice cream, better than any that I have tasted so far.

On other days, with dark clouds looming on the horizon, we would pile into our cars (along with the domestic staff’s offspring) and head for ‘Kamran ki Baradari’ on the far bank of River Ravi, stopping to stock ourselves with a generous supply of ‘chikkar cholay’ and ‘nan’. Another annual monsoon trip to the Ravi was taken for a different reason – to see the once placid waters now swollen into a raging flood. This was an occasion, when the entire population of the old city appeared to have converged on the bridges spanning the river.

Monsoon rains trigger a primeval instinct amongst the human race generating a feeling of euphoria, excitement and frivolity. There is however a class of people in our society - prisoners of a modern lifestyle, to whom ‘monsoon clouds’ are simply rainclouds that are likely to become a nuisance. These are the people, who unknown to them, are missing a great opportunity to enjoy life and experience one of the most unforgettable sensory marvels of nature – the aroma of rain on a thirsty landscape.