30 May 2007

Monsoon magic

The thunderstorms we’ve had off and on for the past few days are a sign that the monsoon is just around the corner. Temperatures have gone down a few degrees and there’s no need to switch on the ceiling fan during the day. The nights are cooler.

I’ve been following the predictions of the India Meteorological Department and the onset of the monsoon in the papers. The south-west monsoon usually starts in the state of Kerala (on the south-west coast) on June 1st and then gradually travels upwards, soaking most of the country by July. But there were predictions that the monsoon would arrive early this year. Then Tuesday’s (May 29) paper confirmed that the south-west monsoon ‘has arrived with a bang’ in Kerala and that it would reach Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the next few days.

Before the first thundershower last week, I felt the palatable excitement in the air. The wind was picking up, bringing down tree branches and banging windows shut. Dark, threatening clouds were making their approach, turning day into night. I went up to the roof to watch the wind and clouds and saw that I wasn’t the only one watching the approaching storm from the rooftop. Women were busy quickly taking down laundry from clotheslines and closing windows. There was the sound of children shrieking with excitement as they flew kites in the strong wind.

Then during the storm, apart from the sound of raindrops beating down on concrete, there was an amazing and eerie silence: no traffic noise, no singing birds, no shrieking children. And then once it was all over: the cool air, refreshing after days of humidity, and that delicious smell that rises up from the wet earth.

The following day brought another rain shower and this time I got caught in it coming home from dance class. Auto-rickshaw drivers love the rain because it means more customers and they shamelessly jack up their prices. One wanted 100 rupees to take me home - the usual price is 12. I decided to wait until the rain let up and took refuge in front of a bank. Business was quiet and some of the employees came out and stood outside to watch the pouring rain. Two of them – young women - ran out into the street, getting soaked and screeching like schoolgirls.

After enduring the scorching heat of April and May, all of India eagerly awaits the monsoon season. The monsoon is the country’s lifeblood: after months of dry and dusty heat, its rains irrigate farmland and fill aquifers. It also brings down temperatures, bringing relief from the heat and signalling the end of summer and the start of a new season.

The rainy season is also considered to be a ‘romantic’ time and is depicted this way in art, music and poetry. In Indian classical music, there are ragas that are sung or played specially during this time. These melodies are moody and thought-provoking, evoking impressions of clouds, thunder and rain. Raga Megh (meaning cloud) is even said to provoke rain.

(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)


Sharon Delman said...

What a lovely post. I'll appreciate the rainy season here in northern California with new perspective, having read your words. I love the connection of the ragas to the natural cycle of the seasons. Thank you for sharing this.

Unknown said...

Good post. Nice picture too. In Chennai we are still waiting for the rain.
Abraham Tharakan.

Anonymous said...

I must agree with Sharon's comment. This is a very lovely post. I'm anxious to return to India but it will have to wait. Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to reading more of your wonderful writings about your life in India. Keep at it.

E(Liz)a(Beth) said...

I was able to watch the monsoons come into Goa over the weekend. Perhaps not the full blown beginning, my friend and I sat in a local restaurant on Sunday morning and watched the storm come in from the sea. As we sat, the men of the restaurant ran around doing their best to remedy leaks, creating a river in the sand through the restaurant so that it wouldn't flood. It was nothing short of magical.