Once the rainy season is under way, there are no uncertainties about the weather in Akathethara. It will rain all day, every day, until further notice. It is the pre-monsoon season that is chancy. Should we air out the bedding, as it will be our last chance for months, or should we just finish our essential tasks right away?
The first of the “between rains” caught us by surprise this year. In fact, it was a downright nuisance. We were only a month into the dry season, the painters were finishing the roof and, while they splashed about on the terrace, I struggled to dry the year’s turmeric crop on the few sunny spots I could find elsewhere. I expressed my surprise to Mini, who lives two doors away, and she said, of course it had to rain, the newspaper said it would. I wish I had a newspaper like that.
Our English paper carries a long meteorological article every day, but it never quite manages the “fore” part of the forecast. Here is a bit from it: “The pressure level is expected to revert back to below the 1,000-millibar level once the western disturbance passes to the east-northeast and the impact from the weather-driving cyclonic circulation fades away.” Now, does that mean wet weather or dry? Sometimes, we can’t get past the headline. What to make of “Bay low seen dropping anchor to steer rains”?
Doordarshan has a standing forecast since, probably, television was invented: Thundershowers are expected in one or two places in the south. Those two places might be Rayalseema and Kanchipuram, I suppose, or Akathethara and Cherplassery. Many channels simply put sun and cloud stickers on a map of India while a girl with long hair recites the metro temperatures, which we might surely read for ourselves off the screen. When we want actual satellite pictures that show grey lint all over the peninsula, we check CNN or BBC. The trouble is we don’t know whether our new Tata Sky dish will still receive signals in the rain.
Illustration by Jayachandran / MINT
So, mostly, we sniff the air and talk it over with friends. The dragonflies are out, so it will rain. Or, it is really muggy, so it must rain. Or, we have put blankets out on the clothesline, Shanti has cemented her car porch and Srini has put out hundreds of coconut halves to dry, so we can expect a deluge.
Old George told us that when the small hill north of us “smokes”, it will rain. That has proved accurate most of the time, but the rain tends to sneak over the hill while we are napping. That is when you will hear stampedes and battle commands: “You get the clothes on the terrace, I’ll grab the red chillies!”
Late this summer, after a few false smoke alarms, we deconstructed the weather report and made out, in less time than it took to do Sudoku, that it would rain in about a week. We started to batten down the hatches. We lined up logs and stones to hold back our precious soil on the slopes behind the house. Out front, the driveway bleeds soil and the flowing water ploughs through the lane.
Old George used to cut channels across the driveway to keep the water and soil firmly within his boundaries, but then he didn’t have to drive over ruts and bumps; he just jumped over the puddles. All month I embedded crumbled roof tiles in the ground and ignored over-the-fence advice to concrete it all up as far as the front door.
Still no rain. And, for the first time I can remember since I began paying attention to monsoons, Mumbai got its rains before we did.
It all came eventually, of course. A sky so dark and low we might bump our heads against it. Drips off the slick banana leaves. Wet clothes on the banister. And it will keep up till we’re sick of it, I hope. But the delay had its upside. The flower head on the ixora opened before the skies did. The caterpillars held off for a while. I got my books aired. And our opposition parties, who do such a fine job of opposing, squeezed in a couple of more hartals before the wet took the fun out of it all.
This concludes this series on life in Akathethara in Kerala.
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