Monsoon Memories

One of my earliest memories of the monsoons as a child is looking forward to School Rainy Days. We would wake up to overcast skies and a steady, yet non-threatening downpour, the cool morning laziness stopping us from getting out of our beds. But the excitement and the prospect of a rainy day – where we reached school but were sent back after an impromptu holiday declared by the school – was too tempting to let go. So, we would get ready and reach the bus stop with our umbrellas and raincoats enjoying the cool breeze and the droplets of rain, wishing throughout for a holiday. And what jubilation when we saw the anticipated ‘school closed due to rainy day’ message scribbled on the blackboard at the main gate!

We would chat a bit after which our school bus driver would hurdle us back to the bus. The bus would stay a while at a depot where we would have our packed tiffin, play all kinds of games, and run across the aisle while the rain poured outside. The driver would have his tea and smoke and a few of us would sneak out to get drenched and buy candies from the tea shops.

We would then return home, a journey of 45 minutes, opening the bus windows, enjoying the spray of rain and moist cool breeze. Paper boats used to be ready from pages torn from the back of notebooks. After getting down from the bus we would scout for big puddles and drains filled with swirling rainwater for our boats to be propelled. What simple yet profound joys these moments spelled! We would linger on our way back home from the bus stop, not too bothered about the impending light reprimanding from our parents.

Parents back then were cooler, I guess. At least as far as playing in the rain was concerned. I remember going out to play even if it was drizzling and no one protested. Getting drenched in the rain was no big deal. It made for some fun moments, built our immunity and made us appreciate nature.

Unscheduled power cuts used to be another fallout of monsoons especially when the rain was accompanied by roaring winds. Unlike the scheduled power cuts in summer, these power cuts were warmly welcomed! We would break from our studies, lanterns would be lit, and pakodas fried – all to be enjoyed in the hum of rains in the background.

Another favourite activity used to be watching the water droplets from rain sliding down the window sills and dripping from the parapets. I remember sitting near windows or in the balcony with a book in my hand, reading, and also gazing at these magical droplets for hours together. The joy of reading doubled, accompanied by petrichor (the earthy scent when rain falls on dry soil) and the beauty of the freshly washed greens and grey black clouds all around. I used to be enveloped by a deep sense of serenity and comfort.

And if one considered the excruciating misery of pre-monsoon temperatures, the arrival of monsoons was even sweeter. We were all familiar with the signs heralding monsoons – call of the cuckoo, dancing peacocks, insects in mangoes, movement of black ants busy amassing food, flying termites, the drone of dragonflies. I wonder if the city-bred children today have any inkling about the signs and their significance.

As we grew up, our romance with the monsoons continued with a different set of emotions. The monsoons triggered nostalgia, and yearning for new and lost loves, of favourite rain songs, writing poetry and imagining movie scenes. It was also about exploring and visiting new places in the monsoons.

Monsoon in India is not just a routine change in season, but a critical event affecting millions of farmers, biodiversity, regeneration of aquifers, livelihood and the economy. From biodiversity to plant and animal productivity, life cycles in India and other neighbouring countries greatly depend on rains. Our agro-climatic zones, biogeographic regions, and variety of soils, plants and animals life are enabled by the rain.

It’s also an emotion deeply embedded in our culture with festivals, music, songs, and cuisines, celebrating its myriad facets. Monsoon in India is considered the giver of all life and life flows as per its rhythm. It not just symbolises rejuvenation, fresh energy and spirit since ages but is also reflected in several myths, symbols and metaphors.

A  cultural mainstay, monsoon has been a creative source for art and literature. From food and festivals to art, music and poetry, a lot of our cultural repository centres around the rain. We have deep emotive roots in the monsoon and our living traditions continue to cherish it.

The arrival and withdrawal of monsoons are major episodes in India. The summer monsoon and the winter monsoon determine the climate for most of India and Southeast Asia. On the other hand, the winter monsoon, lasting from October to April, is less well-known than its rainy summer counterpart. Winter monsoons are less powerful than summer monsoons in Southeast Asia, as the Himalayas prevent a large part of the wind and moisture of the monsoons from reaching the coast.

Unfortunately, over the past couple of years the experience of enjoying the monsoons, for children and adults alike, is no longer the same. While as a child I had enjoyed getting drenched in the rain, I now hesitate to allow my children to do the same, apprehensive that they will catch a cold, fall sick with a new virus and miss school and a host of other activities. I dread going out during the monsoons afraid that I will be caught unawares by a downpour or get stranded on a submerged road.

Back then, monsoons were steady, invigorating, beautiful and always welcoming. Not volatile, erratic, problematic and accompanied by waterlogging and urban floods witnessed frequently these days. Of course, it is still invigorating, beautiful and provides us with much-needed relief from the heat, but so much has changed about its pattern and nature. And we have stopped enjoying it, thanks to our ever-growing greed and changing attitudes. By building more and more buildings all across available land, blocking natural waterways, burying natural water sources and defying nature.

These days, the monsoons triggered by climate change are marked by localised extreme rainfall events and display variability in patterns of rainfall dispersal, both of which in all probability will increase in the future. Erratic rainfalls, dry spells, floods, cloud bursts and people being swept away in monsoon floods are getting increasingly common.

As per the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ Climate Change Assessment Report for the Indian region, monsoon rainfall had declined by nearly 6% between 1951 and 2015, with notable decreases over the Indo-Gangetic plains and the Western Ghats. India also saw more frequent dry spells and more intense wet spells during the summer monsoon season. Over some parts of the Country, the frequency of localised extreme single-day rain events exceeding 150 mm per day increased by about 75% between 1950 and 2015.

It is critical that we become aware of these phenomena and modify our own personal, collective behaviour now. With the adverse impact of climate change looming large, it’s time we alter our practices, and contribute to and conserve the extraordinary gifts that nature has bestowed on us. Monsoons like the other seasons are filled with memories, magic and metaphors. Wish our children and the next generations get to experience it and learn to relish and treasure it as much as we had.

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