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The monsoon

September 22, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night. Yes, sure it was, and I was inside a mosquito net – the ‘macchardani’- in the ‘aangan’ of our house in Korea. Before you ask North or South, the Korea I knew still remains one and is located in Surguja District of Chattisgarh. When the night was dark and stormy it used to be called M.P., never Madhya Pradesh. I was all of 10 and my siblings were 5 and 3, which makes it pretty child-abusive of my parents to have gone to the local club to play ‘Puploo’ a version of the card game rummy popular among the North India colliery officers.  But they had gone for just an hour, or so they said.

The monsoon had just arrived in that part of the country entirely without the help of T.V. or the India Metrological Department’s website satellite imagery tracking the clouds. 1972 you see, was way behind times.  It caused a mad scramble amongst us brothers and sisters as we made haste to grab all the belongings including the mosquito nets and dash inside the house. By the end of the exercise we were drenched. Our parents dashed in, card game forgotten and as we talked in the dark, the electricity having gone, the drum roll of rain on the zinc sheet roof had us yelling to get heard.

The monsoon is a very personal experience. Each person has his or her take on it. For me it was always aural, the monsoon. The sounds of the rain on the tin roof, the whistling and howling of the wind, the definite darkness that descended which only made the sounds sharper, the cicadas and the frogs with their background noise and one particular spine chilling sound of the wind as it blew through a low pressure area of the courtyard. For a young boy just introduced to Boris Karloff comics, it set off a vivid imagination of ghosts and spooks which still leaves me afraid of the dark.

Thanks to the India Metrological Department and websites, things have changed. This year we know for sure now that the monsoon has been normal or in excess in most parts of India except Eastern U.P., Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam and West Bengal. That the normal onset date is June 1st and that the normal withdrawals date from the sub-continent is September 1st.

Then there are the more prosaic facts. That it is called the monsoon from the Arabic word ‘mausim’ meaning season. That on average it brings and dumps on the Indian subcontinent of 3.3 million square kilometres about 4000 billion cubic metres of water.

This love child of the Indian Ocean and the Sun is a capricious creature however. It challenges the best of prediction and does things which nowadays are blamed on climate change. It used to be the ‘weather’ now everybody nods sagely and says global warming.  Notice the deluge in Leh or the floods in Pakistan or the drought in Bihar. This then is the new normal.

Then there are the quirks of the monsoon. It douses the coal rakes with water and causes power shortage since thermal power plants cannot burn the wet coal. Karnataka faced that situation this year. Its brought dengue, malaria and chikungunya to our villages and even our metropolis though the blame also lies with abysmal municipal management of garbage and drainage facilities. It’s caused no end of woes to the organizers as they plan the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

The monsoon brutally exposes the failures of our municipal and rural governance system like no other feature of nature. The million of tonnes of rotting food grains lying exposed to its vagaries is not as much an exposure by the news media as by the monsoon. If previously we feared that we could not grow enough to feed our teeming millions now we fear that the rains will cause the wheat to rot. This is another exposure of miserable governance of our food system.

On the positive side and for a change it’s brought the Yamuna to its full glory and swept away for a few days the filth, the garbage and the sewage Delhi so mercilessly dumps into it.

My friends from the villages of Western Rajasthan who harvest rainwater say that this time the monsoon has filled their wells and they should have no problem for the next two years. Many bore-wells have sprung back to life and in a country of 20 million bore-wells and counting, this means water for some more days.

The whole of Bihar has been declared drought affected but within the embankments the monsoon has caused floods and brought misery to millions. The Kosi lives up to its reputation and fills its embankments. The ‘Maegh Pyne Abhiyan’ a people’s movement for rainwater collection in Bihar is however busy catching whatever rain that falls. They have even converted the tarpaulin shelters on the embankments where they seek shelter from the floods into catchments for rainwater, pure water fit to drink. The monsoon brings the misery of the flood but also provides the water of succour.

Things are normal in other parts however. Cherrapunji has received 1215 cm. of rain this year from January to September, the site indianweatherman.blogspot.com informs me. The highest rainfall receiving place on earth is in India and continues to get the blessings of the monsoon.

For days in the Southern states there was talk of cloud seeding. A couple of good rains and the talk seem to have evaporated. We make a hue and cry of not getting the rains but when it does fall we are ill-equipped to receive it. There are not enough dams and other storage structures and certainly not enough efforts to harvest rain and artificially recharge aquifers.

The monsoon however is a personal thing to us Indians and each will experience it in her own way. As a farmer was mentioning the other day, it rains by Survey numbers these days and not uniformly like the old days. Each farmer will have his tale of the monsoon.

For me the enduring image will be the street sweeper lady on a section of Park Street in Kolkata sweeping away and cleaning the entrance to the storm water gutters while it poured and poured for 3 hours straight and rained 120 mm. She had no umbrella, no raincoat and was drenched to the bones. Yet her work continued unsupervised. In Kolkata the rain is warm unlike Bangalore where it can freeze you but that is small consolation. On such diligence of workers do parts of the country run, whichever parts do.

It is a dark and stormy night, the monsoon has not retreated and the winds are howling, it is pouring….this year the monsoon will only retreat by end of September and we shall catch the retreating monsoon or the North-East monsoon too.

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