Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Bhaarat's Varsha

The title of the post is borrowed from a very well written piece by Khushwant Singh, from his book, "India Without Humbug" (which now appears to be out of print). The article revolves around the weather, more specifically the monsoon and its vital role in Indian life. Singh touches upon agriculture, ornithology, poverty alleviation, music, and other ways in which life in India is impacted by this annual whim of the sun and the oceans.

For seven years, one ("perpendicular pronouns Bhaarat chodo", see previous post) looked at the weather at a tactical level. In Amherst and in Boston, this meant paying attention to daily weather reports for about 6 months of the year, and then deciding what to wear, what to do, and where and how to go. Careful attention to details such as predicted daily (non substance induced) highs and lows, wind chill and such. The more prolonged and always-looming-in-the-background wait for the spring thaw, and to some extent even the first snows around Thanksgiving were certainly there, but the waiting didn't seem to matter in a larger sense.

On the other hand, here in the heart of the dustbowl that is the Deccan plateau, the weather has a completely different meaning. Who cares whether the temperature is going to hit 43 degrees centigrade, or 45? Us well heeled types have airconditioning at work, anyway. What really matters, is the rains. When they'll come, whether they'll come, will it rain smaller vertebrata (cats, dogs, ferrets, cows (small)) or are we going to see something quite at the other end of the spectrum (saurians (extinct), cetaceans, Moby Dick)?

Around the middle of May, the real protracted waiting begins. Read Singh's book, he does a really good job of describing the atmosphere. The parched earth, the dusty streets, listless living things, the pathetic whirring of ceiling fans and their futile attempts to stir the soupy air into a breeze of some kind. And the waiting... We scan newspapers in the hope that our untrained eyes will be able to glean something from the satellite images that the much maligned meteorology folk haven't been able to see.

The monsoon, Bhaarat's Varsha is [begin-aside:
  • dark clouds,
  • preliminary dust storms,
  • wet earth, the smell of wet earth rising like steam from an idli,
  • the hawk cuckoo (in Hindi sings pee kahaan ("Where is my Beloved?"), in Marathi sings paos aalaa ("The rains are coming!"), in English, somewhat morbidly, "Brain fever! Brain fever!"), peacocks strut,
  • Raagamala paintings of the rain raagas,
  • sari clad Bollywood starlets prancing in the gardens,
  • a large and interesting selection of creepy crawlies materializes out of thin air, possessed by the most desperate Samwise Gamgeeish desire to give your dinner company, as it wends its way on a perilous journey down your oesophagus,
  • and much much more
end-aside], most importantly, vital to the economy. A good monsoon means hope, optimism, food, in general a fursat ke raat din type of existence. A bad monsoon will mean slight discomfort and marginally increased expenses to the corpulent ones, but disaster in the countryside. With any luck, a bunch of yokels we will never have to deal with directly will end up having to sell/mortgage their land so that they can eat, and will eventually become cheap labour at urban construction sites and the housing and household help market will be sexy next year, so one will recover this year's losses. Ha ha ha.

The point is, this whole monsoon thingy is pretty critical, and not just from the perspective of selling movies. The bigger point is that this year, so far, the monsoon has been a big no-show. This is worrisome. One has one's weather spies scattered across the peninsula and nearby archipelagos. Our correspondent from Kerala reports that the rains there haven't been like in the old days. The embedded reporter from the Nicobar islands says that its raining there, and is bewildered as to what all the griping from the mainland is all about. Here, in the dustbowl, the wait continues. Almost every day, the satellite picture shows serried ranks of white approaching the south-west coast of India, but it isn't raining yet. Are the worthy Meteorlogical Ones using Adobe Photoshop more than helium balloons nowadays? It should've been pouring a week ago.

We squint at the skies, crinkle our brows and sing, "And we wait, and we wait, for you...with or without you...we can't live..."


Orcaella brevirostris said...

and there's the other bharatvarsha staple, with india "staring down the barrel", us sadomasochistic types (cricket watchers) pray for rain

Anonymous said...

And then the skies opened up,
and somewhere in the distance the thunder rolled,
is it in response
to the lamentations of a caring heart?

No poet am I, yet clouds of thought collide in my head...

Die wirbelnden Ströme des Regenwassers
schlängeln sich durch die Sidewalks
die Welt, die bereits im Regen getränkt wird,
glitzert und glänzt wie ein Diamant
Und wie die ersten Strahlen der Sonne
throught das Bett der Wolken sneak,
Ein neuer gefundener Frieden schlägt die Welt ein.

Jedoch rast der Sturm innerhalb irgendjemandes Kopfes an