On a day like this, as the East Coast digs in and prepares for a blizzard, as my daughter’s daycare shuts down early and as Brooklyn College, my employer, preemptively calls for a closing tomorrow, I figured I might as well write about the time I used to get days off when the sun shone.
My ninth and tenth grades were completed at a boarding school in India’s north-east. (More precisely, in the town of Darjeeling, in the state of West Bengal.) Amongst other things, India’s north-east is famous for the quantity of its rainfall. The world’s wettest place, Cherrapunji, in the Indian state of Meghalaya, is in the Indian north-east. You get the idea.
I learned these facts about my new location the hard way. Rainy, grey days were exceedingly common; these were accommodated by covered walkways between buildings, which facilitated easy umbrella-free transits between them. Still, the persistent rain resulted in an all-pervading air of dampness all over and around the school; you couldn’t escape the odd soaking or two. We played our sports in the rain; our gear hardly ever dried in time for us to wear it again. You couldn’t get away from the mud, sometimes on your shoes, sometimes on your trousers. All too soon, you could smell the mold everywhere. It was very often, a miserable state of affairs.
A few weeks after I started school, on the morning of a day on which the sun had finally shone after several days of rain, I walked into the school chapel for our morning service, and noticed that the number of the hymn listed on the board next to the pulpit was 155. It indicated we would be singing “All Things Bright and Beautiful” during the service. On seeing this, some excited murmuring broke out around me. I asked a friend what the matter was. “We’re going to get a sunshine holiday”, he whispered back. I had no idea what that was.
A short while later, I found out. We were getting the day off. There would be no classes. Apparently, my school had a tradition: when the sun finally shone after a long absence, we were given the day off, and whimsically informed of the school’s decision to give us this little treat by indicating we would sing that Anglican classic during our service. Some games of intramural soccer were organized but other than that, we were left to our devices. We reacted to this news by sunbathing on lawns and the roofs of buildings, putting out moldy and damp clothes and linen to dry, and going for long walks around our campus. I don’t think I’ve ever welcomed the sun’s appearance as much as I did on those occasions. For a young lad who had just left India’s hottest city, my school’s response to the sun’s presence was an utter novelty. And a welcome one at that.
PS: On one occasion, as I worked in the chemistry lab, I noticed a strange bright glow outside and wondered what it was. It was the sun, making its appearance after a rain that had lasted sixteen days. It had shown up a little too late for us to get the day off and I never forgave that tardiness on its part.