Were it not for the slight oblong slit in the lower left edges of the window that hung just above her bed, Shirley wouldn't even have heard it.
So feeble was the sound.
And when the faint yet sonorously familiar sounds wriggled their way in from the street to her room, her sanctum santorum got inundated in ways more metaphorical than literal.
The 21 year old final year Miranda House student who had planned to spend an evening delineating the wonders of Jungian philosophy found her thoughts meandering elsewhere, to things more terrestrial.
The call of the soil beckoned.
Shirley shut down her tome, pushed her chair back, and turned around. Now half bent, her hands found what they sought under the well stocked bookshelf.
She hurriedly put on her monsoon slippers, the sky blue pair, her favourite, the one she had cajoled her mother to buy during one of the duo's quarterly visits to the flea market a few blocks away from their place.
The next moment she had opened the latch to the main door, and boy! did she love it!
She inhaled deep and long, standing there, an unopened umbrella in one hand, allowing her nostrils to fill up with the smell of fresh Earth.
And there she stood, for an eternity perhaps, soaking in, imbibing the oh so familiar scent of soil that has been made love to newly.
Shirley closed her eyes, and lived her moment, breathing in the aroma she waited for the good part of the year, every single year.
What's so special about the first rains, her friends, even her hard nosed father had once asked her.
What's so special? She wished she could answer that...wondered whether they would understand her response.
All she said in a bid to quieten them and maybe shove them away from her tango with Mother Nature was PETRICHOR.
She allowed the word to sit on her tongue, roll around the tips, a slow languorous trisyllabic drawl...PE...TRI...CHOR...the smell of a million compounds, the smell of sulphur, the smell emanating from the fusion and fission of uncountable dormant chemicals. Chemicals that lay hidden and dormant for god knows how long, waiting expectantly for the dryness and aridity of the soil to give way to the soft velvety wetness of the soil.
A smile on her lips, her lungs filled to the brim with the sweet redolence of Nature's benevolence, Shirley slinked out of her street, her slippers leaving behind well etched imprints on the freshly watered soil.
In no time she was on the main road, the busy arterial intersection that branched out like giant lobster wings in a neat 360 degree arc ferreting and foraging through the city and linking its gnarled teeth with the myriad mofussil towns and villagers that dotted the peripheries of Chennai city.
Sidestepping a dirty puddle, she watched with nonchalance the usual flotsam and getsum of human race rush in and out of umpteen creeks and crevices like busy bumble bees hissing and buzzing around front one unknown end to another. In the distance her eyes caught the roofs of single storey structures where stood askance old decrepit men, converging and watching with an air of know all despondency the world battle yet another turn and twist of the season. A roadside tea shop, a ramshackle mere leafy structure was peopled by still more men, mostly office goers and daily wagers whose perfectly synchronised plans or so it seemed were ruined by the sudden burst of the clouds.
There they stood, hands on hips, running watery fingers through nonexistent scalp, wetty palms making furiously vain attempts to squeeze out the last dripping vestiges of rainwater from their skin pores.
On the roads, beyond the freshly turned leafy parks, Shirley noticed other masses of humanity float by, gently or hurriedly, skirting and girding their way past newly born pot holes and dubious pathways that were one way to wander into would surely lead them to Hell's doorway.
A few lucky ones, lucky in that they were destination less, they needn't have to catch the next bus or rickshaw to work to fall into the mundaneity of working for a living thing around hole in the wall tea shops sipping piping hot ginger chai and idly watching the world denizenry manage their lives on a rainy day.
They were all like, Shirley pondered, houng and rudderless, and for that they counted themselves lucky.
Forever 18...she was reminded of that pharse from a poem she had heard often.
Yeah, she thought. What she would give for this pleasure-to be forever 18, without a care in the world, simply soaking in the smell of fresh earth, the sweet scent of flowers, feeling the gentle sway of still yellow branches as they hung loose from tall gulmohar trees. The sun, or just a glimpse of its iridescent rays as they sneaked past the wooden roofs of conical shaped buildings, the ears caressed by the soft touch of the west bound winds as the senses got further seduced by the oh so soft lilting metronomic notes struck by the dual cans of the old milk man as he laboured up the slope.
'A rolling stone gathers no moss...'
Shirley, rudely shaken out of her reverie, looked up at the tall young man who stood beside her.
She was on the road, the nondescript side street that she usually took to her college, a lonely, desolate stretch no doubt, but still a short cut, one that cut a good fifteen minutes, time she considered well saved, especially in wet days such as this when it was de rigueur to miss a few 'boring' classes.
The stranger still wore the quizzical smile on his lips.
Flabbergasted, Shirley, her hands now firmly wrapped around her chest, responded with a terse, "Excuse me"?
The man, who looked no more than 30, scratched his neatly brushed half beard, and continued, 'I noticed you noticing thoss stones.' His fingers pointed towards the thick foliage a few feet away, at the neat array of lined tea plants.
Those stones around the shrubs, they are full of moss. They have been there since ages. Tea croppers come and go, tea leaves birth, sprout, give tea, and shed. Year on year, the cycle repeats itself. But those stones, they remain where they are. And keeping them company are the moss. They are faithful, loyal, and have eyes and heart and soul only for the stones. So unlike humans, aren't they?"
Shirley watched with a fresh pair of eyes at the wondrously philosophical manner in which the young man had enunciated one of life's most sublime truths.
She couldn't but break into a smile.
The perfect stranger responded with a smile, a curve that reached upto his lbig, bulbous jet black eyes.
That evening, that moment, time stood still, as two young souls sought themselves in the other's eyes.
"Would you mind if we go grab some coffee? I'm told there's a hut up the incline that makes the best Nilgiri tea."
At that instant Shirley knew that this rains were going to drizzle a wee bit differently.
The sylhoette of the two as they clambered up made for the perfect visual against the backdrop of a happy sun that had decided to turn in from behind the hills to bless the onset of a new season of love.