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Business News/ Mint-lounge / The monsoon that we might have lost

The monsoon that we might have lost

The monsoon that we might have lost

Wet land: Frolicking in the rains, a common Mumbai sight. Photo: Sattish Bate/Hindustan Times Premium

Wet land: Frolicking in the rains, a common Mumbai sight. Photo: Sattish Bate/Hindustan Times

A few desultory thoughts on our monsoon, the season that separates India from the world.

1. At the first sign of a rain cloud, Sri Ram abandoned his search for Sita according to Valmiki. “This is not the right time forus to start on our expedition," he tells Sugriva. “Lakshman and I will live here on this mountain. The cave is large and pleasant and the area abounds in water and lotus ponds. We shall start on our journey to kill Ravana in the month of Kartik" (Arshia Sattar’s translation). Kartik is November and so that was a five-month break from the search for anxiously-awaiting Sita.

Wet land: Frolicking in the rains, a common Mumbai sight. Photo: Sattish Bate/Hindustan Times

3. Shivaji took a vacation from war every monsoon. The Marathas retired to their cantonments, and their horses to the stables, from June to September. The Narmada, which they crossed to raid Hindustan, was unfordable in that period.

On the day of Dussehra (October), the mounted horde set out in the direction pointed by their great king. Too often, alas, he pointed towards Surat. Anyway, for these eight months, till the next monsoon, the Marathas lived in foreign parts, off the land of poor peasants. “No woman, female slave or dancing-girl" was allowed, reported Sir Jadunath Sarkar. The moralism of the peasant Maratha, like R.R. Patil, who has murdered Mumbai’s beautiful and civilized dance bars, comes from a background.

4. Mumbai’s monsoon is incomparable. My father, who loved south Bombay where he once had a job, told me the Arabs would come and occupy the hotels in Colaba, especially the Taj, in June. They anticipated the monsoon as it came sweeping north-east up the Arabian Sea. They would watch in awe the sheets of water smashing into windowpanes a few feet from their face. I wonder if they still come.

5. In Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, young Durga prances about in the rain, but she dies of pneumonia. In his autobiographical novel Youth, J.M. Coetzee wrote about the transformative power of Ravi Shankar’s sitar-playing in the movie, which gave him access to and insight into Indian culture without knowing an Indian language. Nowhere is this playing more lyrical than in its description of these scenes going from joy to sorrow.

6. Indonesian president Sukarno’s daughter Megawati Sukarnoputri was named by the former Orissa chief minister, the late Biju Patnaik (daddy of Naveen). Putri means daughter and Meghawati, or Megawati, also rose to become president like her father. She was born on a day of heavy rain in 1947, and so was named after it.

7. Writing about Arundhati Roy’s novel 15 years ago in India Today, Rohit Brijnath alerted readers to her descriptive ability. He reproduced these lines from The God of Small Things as an example of what he meant. “It was raining when Rahel came back to Ayemenem. Slanting silver ropes slam into loose earth, plowing it up like gunfire." As good an image of our monsoon as I have read.

8. Gujaratis call the monsoon chaumasu: those four months. They have ditties that celebrate it, instructing children on what tastes best as the rain falls: karela, phulka and mango ras. As schoolchildren in Surat, for us the hope (“Please God, I’ll never ask for anything else") was that the rains would fall hard enough overnight so that there would be no school. Know this, child readers of Lounge: Few joys adulthood brings can hold a candle to the knowledge that there is no going to school in the morning.

My own memories from childhood insist the monsoon rains no longer have their animal ferocity. Older readers may want to consult their memories about this.

Are we losing our monsoon?

9. In his paper (“Changes in Total Cloud Cover Over India Based Upon 1961-2007 Surface Observations"), India Meteorological Department’s A.K. Jaswal suggests we are. Jaswal was kind enough to send me his paper for this piece. Based on the recordings of 172 meteorological stations all over India, he compiled annual and seasonal trends in total cloud cover and rainy days for 1961-2007. “The data analysis indicates a general decrease in total cloud cover over most parts of India during winter, summer and monsoon," he says. The total cloud cover from June to September is decreasing at 2% per decade.

A depressing thought.

10. Al-mausam, the original word for monsoon, is the generic Arabic word for season, but it has become associated with one specific Indian season. Gulzar’s one forgettable song is written around this word. His most devoted admirer is guaranteed to cringe at the awful “Mausam mausam, lovely mausam" from Thodi si Bewafai.

11. Our great poem of the weather is Meghdoot, in which the clouds are urged by the yaksha to carry his message to his woman. The rains always bring out the poet in the Indian as if by magic.

Gujarati poet, lyricist and novelist Sheikh Adam Abuwala, flying to Germany on his first aeroplane ride 50 years ago, wrote this couplet to describe what he was doing:

“Hoon vimaan maan besi, Meghdoot vanchu chhun (Hurtling through the clouds in this airplane, I am reading Meghdoot)."

Aakar Patel is a writer and a columnist.

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Also Read |Aakar’s earlier Lounge columns

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Updated: 17 Aug 2012, 08:29 PM IST
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