I haven’t written about my time in Singapore for a reason.
It disproportionately features in my most secretively hoarded memories. Whenever I think back to my time in Singapore I can feel my heart quickening and pulse racing. I cannot help it.
When I try to write about it I have a feeling not very much unlike when one stands in front of an unopened trapdoor full of pleasures. The titillating feeling of owning, delaying, and fantasizing about the time I can spend in those charmed memories make me stop writing. I lapse into fond nostalgia for the time I spent there.
I used to live in a Condo on Ulu Pandan Road. It was about 2 kilometers from the Clementi MRT station. The walk was shaded partly. The rest of the walk was under the harsh tropical afternoon sun. If you cut across the HDBs, the housing projects, you will come across a Chinese seafood mart that announces itself pungently even before you catch sight of it. I sometimes stop to take a look inside, to look at the large frogs in the tank clustered around waiting to be picked and cooked. Through the glass pane, you can see the soft white of their underbellies as they lay flattened on the aquarium tank, their throats pulsing, as they stare back at you.
I remember the shoppers better than the array of fish and reptiles though.
I realized that what really I wanted to see again and again was how Singaporean Indians have changed into a Mandarin-Tamil hybrid. I watched dark-skinned Tamil women walk in with their Chinese friends, skimming the fish market for produce. In them, I am reminded of faraway long-ago journeys. They retain an Indian-ness. A sense of throwback culture that reminds me of newly independent nations. Yes. That was it. Singaporean Indians who have settled there for generations reminded me of Indians who boarded ships from a faraway country.
Very soon I stopped taking the MRT though.
It was because of Singapore’s rains.
I think it is unfair to classify water condensation in colder places like the USA to that in Singapore under the same name. Singaporean rains are majestic. The whoosh of the rain descending is a joy that drips first into my ears and then drowns my heart till it finally spurts onto my eyes. I experience rain inside out as much as from the prickly goosebumps on my skin. By the time the rain pours down, I am so overwhelmed by a giddy rush of sensations overpowering my being. They lash inside me, straining, breaking, creaming in waves against the insides of my skin as if knowing that on the other side there is wanton liquid debauchery. I have stood many hours in this state, watching the rain fall, a merging of sky and earth, not wanting to move, not wanting the dance to end, not wanting to touch or retreat, letting my eyes soften into those watery patterns, as I wait for the inevitable letting up of the rain.
Once I was caught in a small parking lot during an evening downpour. I had to rush under the small tin-roofed structure. Quickly a few wet and apologetic people ran in. We all stood there as water quickly curtained and cordoned us. I remember that there was no wind at all that afternoon. Just water pouring down expressionlessly in a wet shimmering membrane. All of us were lost in the rain, hypnotized, our thoughts invaded, till, slowly, released from its clutches, one by one, with an arm held above the eyes, they plunged back into the deluge to make it to their cars.
Sometimes, when I stare into these tropical thundershowers for long the world reverses itself. The water no longer falls down. They rise up. They rise up from a living blistering earth, that belligerently shoots raindrops from its bursting watery pores, spitting muddy water globules upward. The earthy water gains purity and transparency as it ascends, up, up, and disappears into the clouds. The watery bullets become peaceful as they distance themselves from the surface in an almost angelic ascension. In such states, everything is muffled. My thoughts, my plans, my existence. Even the intimidating crack of lightning, zigzagging across an evening sky is muted. Rain softens everything. My eyes and ears are saturated by the slow confidence with which a Singaporean rainshower lets herself down on earth.
Once, after one such downpour, I was getting late. I decided to walk through the exit behind the apartments to a bus stand instead of walking to the station. I saw two pearly white cockatoos. On the bus I was thrilled. I knew cockatoos were not a common bird out in the open.
I saw them again, in the same vicinity when I returned.
For the next one week, I changed my routine to walk to the bus station, always keeping an eye out for the birds. More often than not, I managed to catch sight of them. If not on this tree, then on the other, and if not on that one, then on the one farther up.
One week, early on in my stay, I came down with a slight fever. I put down the burning and sweating to the tropical weather then. I drank a lot of iced jasmine flavored tea. Faint, blurry, and weak, I wandered around the city. Running from rain, tasting Tamil Malay food, listening to incomprehensible conversations. I was discovering the joy of wandering in a land that was tantalizingly familiar in its strangeness. I was full of hope. I was full of unfinished stories. It was in such ripe conditions that I tripped and fell in love in Singapore.