Generally, the end of May signals the beginning of the monsoon season in the country. But the start of June may not spell wet days ahead. Rains can be delayed for reasons beyond our control. Since we are yet to master the forces of nature, we have to go by its vagaries. In recent years, weather patterns have been changing to such an extent that decades of weather records and forecasts are biting the dust. Despite watching the cloud formations and their movements, ocean currents and every natural phenomenon related to rain from the space through satellites and weather monitoring ground stations, the monsoon still can play truant, give us a miss on the appointed day and behave like an errant child.
Could we do anything about it? Nothing. Nearly two weeks into the beginning of south-west monsoon season, we are still waiting for a real cloudburst that could soothe our bodies and minds and drench the parched land.
As soon as the first showers of the season blessed God’s Own Country Kerala, Telugu people in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh had been counting days for the monsoon to arrive. Barring a few pockets, rains have largely eluded the two regions which are the worst hit this summer. With over 2,000 heat-related deaths and day temperatures hovering around 40C-48C, water shortages and power outages, it was a hellish experience for millions of Telugu people.
The only alternative left to the hapless population, doesn’t matter whether they are in urban or semi-urban areas, is turn to the sky and pray to Rain God for his early blessing. Now, we have been told that the Telangana region has to wait for some more days as the moisture, the key element in rain-bearing cloud formation, in the atmosphere was sucked out by a cyclone, Ashobaa, in the Arabian Sea on the west coast of India.
Naturally, people are disappointed and dejected. The slight monsoon delay has had its shadow on markets. Sensex hit 8-month closing low on Thursday over monsoon worries. None in this country, from farmers to political leaders and scientists to planners, underestimates the monsoon’s importance and its impact on life and economy. Probably, no other country attaches so much importance to the seasonal rains, particularly the southwest monsoon, as India does because it is bread and butter and lifeline for the billion plus population.
The southwest monsoon accounts for 80 percent of the rainfall in the country and even a minor delay can adversely affect the predominantly agrarian economy as about half of India’s farm output comes from crops sown in the June-September period. Good rains mean good crops, more cash in people’s hands which automatically turns the wheels of the manufacturing industry and in turn accelerates the country’s growth rate. Inadequate rains spell trouble for people as well as those in power. Sometimes, erratic monsoons can make or mar the fortunes of political parties and their leaders as well as the country’s high economic growth prospects.
That’s why everybody starts talking about the monsoon one month in advance and the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), the apex body for the daily and yearly forecasts, keeps gazing at the skies through an array of ground stations and images received from weather satellites.
The vigil for the tell-tale signs of the monsoon begins in the second week of May when 14 weather stations located at Lakshadweep, in Kerala and in Mangalore start monitoring the basic indicators that point to the likely arrival of monsoon. Even after rain-bearing clouds are formed, they may not unload their content on the land; instead, they may drift towards sea due to strong winds and disgorge loads of water. So, rain predictions are always tacky and they are butt of ridicule in the hands of cartoonists.
Nevertheless, the monsoon and the rainy season are intrinsic to Indian culture, tradition and ethos. Ancient Sanskrit and modern romantic poets in all languages have gone gaga over the rain and its seasons in their works. We find references to clouds, their formations, beauty and their ‘moods,’ often compared to women, in every Indian classical literature. Unforgettable among the works for sheer beauty and imagery of rains and clouds are Kalidasa’s Megha Sandesam and Ritusamharam. In modern times, the rain has found no better place in popular culture and imagination than in the cinema that depicts the intimate romantic moments of lead pairs in song and dance.
To state water is life is an understatement and the monsoon is the elixir of life and it has been revered for centuries and the earliest monsoon predictions could be traced to thousands of years when royal court pundits used to advise kings on the onset of rains based on empirical calculations of changing seasons and planetary movements.
The origin of modern meteorology in this country can be traced to the British East India Company which set up observatories in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. Later, several observatories were established both by the central and state governments. But the India Meteorology Department came into existence more out of exigencies of monsoon failures. A tropical cyclone that battered Calcutta in 1864 and famines of Bengal in 1866 and 1871 prompted the colonial rulers to organize the collection and analysis of weather data under one roof resulting in the establishment of IMD in 1875. Arguably, it is one of the oldest of its kind in the world and serves not only India but other countries as well, sharing valuable data.
Interestingly, the arrival of monsoon is of as much interest to us as to others, notably grain exporting countries. Harvests, depending upon the amount of rain and timing, are decisive factors for global commodity and grain market prices as poor and bumper crops can swing world prices.
Truly, drops of rain are rivers of joy which will turn into floods of woes if not channeled properly.