Like most kids, I used to hate the rain – the gray skies, the slight emptiness in the roads due to the forecast and the sharp chillness all before the first droplets fell. I would get this pit in my stomach, an ominous feeling that made me nauseous. I disliked everything about the rain: the earthy smell when I first walked outside right after the storm, the continuous sound of the droplets hitting the roof. But, what bothered me most was the thunder.
Every storm, I’d go and sleep near my mother, and turn to her asking her to stay awake. She’d ask me if I was alright and I would respond with a simple “yeah,” too embarrassed to tell her I was scared, but she knew. Nightmares, storms or just scary thoughts always led to me asking her to stay awake. But she would listen, every night, and try her best to stay up until she accidentally closed her eyes for too long. Then it was just me, alone with the thunder.
Every possible frightening scenario would unfold in my head. The lightning would hit the house or the basement would flood, or worse: a tornado, since the rainy season is tornado season. The power would go out, turning off my bright blue night light from Ikea and the red “3 a.m.” written on the display of our alarm clock from the early ‘90s, and I would be left alone in darkness alongside the ear-splitting thunder. My mind continued to race until I finally fell asleep, exhausted from thinking too much.
A few years later, my parents, brother and I had made the long flight to visit our family back home in Tamil Nadu, India. We were welcomed with warm genuine smiles from my grandmother and aunt along with the heavy thunderstorm amid 98-degree-Fahrenheit heat. The 30-minute taxi drive home felt like hours with rain constantly pouring down the windows. Our suitcases tied to the top of the car absorbed every drop of water, leaving some of our belongings wet. The storm continued with heavy rain throughout the night and scattered thunder and lightning.
After reaching the flat, the downpour only got heavier, but being a little older, I was not as scared as I used to be. Although I wasn’t terrified of the thunder, it still bothered me, spending long nights awake due to the mix of the loud storm and jet lag. While I couldn’t fathom the thought of thunder and lightning as positive occurrences, my aunts, cousins and grandmother were not even the slightest bit phased by the storm; if anything, they saw it as a good thing and were grateful. The dry, drought-like heat of Chennai was temporarily suppressed with wetness and humidity. My aunt would leave the door to the ground-level balcony open so the uncomfortably hot flat would become slightly cooler. A sense of relief grew inside of me as the heat in the room became bearable.
My grandmother sat in the living room fanning herself with that week’s newspaper, while I played with my toys and watched the only English movie playing on TV, “Planet of the Apes.” The rain made the environment feel relaxing but at the same time, still a little uncomfortable. The same feeling of “the calm before the storm” arose except we were halfway through the storm, which always resulted in a common power outage. Even while quickly overheating to the point of sweat puddles surrounding me from the absence of air conditioning and a working ceiling fan, I found comfort in the sense of community these outages brought. With power, everyone was off doing their own thing, cooking, working or watching TV. But with the outage, everyone quickly came together. They’d walk into the living room with a slight sigh and a quick comment: “current pochu” (Tamil for “current went”). My aunt would go around lighting the candles in the flat and the small flame would light up the room just enough to see the color of her sari. We would talk nonsense while sitting on the couch, waiting for the power to return. My cousin would throw in a few harmless jokes about how I would sit with my feet off the ground to avoid the small lizards that constantly ran through the flat or about how I didn’t like the dark in order to lighten the mood and distract me. My aunt would nudge him telling him to stop teasing me and everyone would laugh. Then abruptly, the lights would turn back on, the conversations would end and life would continue just like that.
After coming back to Michigan, I was grateful the storms here weren’t as violent as they were in India. Life went on until we reached the first storm of the season, and I was surprisingly fine with it. I reminisced about the time I spent in India, where everyone felt relieved when it rained since the air was normally dry and the family came together and made jokes and told stories. The rain brought us all together. Thinking back to this sense of togetherness brought me to finally view the rain positively, the same way I did there.
A few times, my family and I were able to experience a storm during our road trips. The lightning would flash and my mother would quickly order us to close our eyes and not look at the bright streak in the sky since she would always say the light is too bright for our eyes to handle. I would smile and nod as she said that, while directly staring at the lightning streak with dangerously wide-open eyes. I didn’t want to miss the slight purple hue that filled the sky, the beauty that I always seemed to miss since I closed my eyes and hid under the cover at the first sign of a storm for so long.
The best part of most thunderstorms is when friends or family are talking to a group and a sudden burst of thunder interrupts them. We all look at each other smiling but in slight disbelief at the thunder being that loud. Someone comments, “Woah,” or “That was loud,” and the rest lightly laugh right before resuming the conversation exactly where it was left off. The thunder was like a break mid-conversation. Not only does it break our conversation, but it breaks everyone in the vicinity of the storm’s conversations as well. We all hear the thunder at the same time, see the lightning at the same time and likely react to it at the same time. It’s like a forced connection between us all. It’s as if the thunderstorm was a break from regular fast-paced life itself, a midlife interruption, where we all pause for a minute and look around, before resuming back to our normal life the way my family in India does every storm.
The thunder is loud, the rain makes the grass messy and the storm can be scary. But without the scariness and ugliness of the storm, there would be no purple hue lighting up the sky, no coolness in the air around my aunt’s flat and no brief moment of extra connection between us all.
MiC Columnist Roshni Mohan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org