Beauty & the Beast

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 2 June 2018

Monsoons are beautiful and hold a special place in our hearts. Ambika Shaligram tries to gather some rain-soaked stories from different regions of the country where people share their happy experiences and also some tough situations they had to face

Aren’t we all looking skywards hoping that the dark clouds — a harbinger of rain — bring some good news? The heat and dust of Indian summer can make us wilt and droop, but the moment monsoon arrives, it rejuvenates and cheers us.  

But along with the fresh greenery glistening with water droplets, building facades looking squeaky clean after being washed by the downpour, children dancing and rejoicing in the rain, people enjoying hot chai and roasted corn, what we also have to deal with are rising water levels of rivers, water logging on roads, animals being displaced from their habitat, people taking shelter on rooftops, commuters struggling to reach home. Rains can be beautiful but they can also bring disaster. Here are a few rain stories from across the country that will touch you, shake you and also bring back memories.

Back in the ’80s, rains meant a happy time, a very welcome change as they brought a big relief from the scorching Delhi heat. I still recall my parents and many friends loving Delhi rains much more than any other season. The entire city would look clean and fresh, as good as new! We would head out and play for hours in and after the rain. Adults too would head out and go about their business. We had never heard of traffic jams because of rains at that time.

In the past decade, however, enthusiasm has ebbed. The trees still wear a clean look. But the roads are waterlogged and travelling becomes a nightmare. There are times when I prefer to work from home, for the fear of spending half my day trying to deal with the sticky humid weather and sewage stink, and manoeuvring Delhi traffic and reckless people who drive their vehicle just close enough so as to splash you with mud.

However, I recently got a taste of the clean and fresh feeling that rains bring, when we were travelling in the North East. My husband and I travelled to Sikkim and Darjeeling in April. During the time that we stayed in the North East, we mostly saw heavy cloud cover. At one point, it seemed like we were walking in the clouds. 

When we reached Nathula pass and Tsomgo lake, we encountered snowfall and heavy rain, respectively. Post rain, the skies seemed to clear for a while, followed by another spell of rain. It was all gorgeous and no less than a beautiful painting!

In Darjeeling, post rains, the roads were really clean and there was no waterlogging in places we went to. Also, from tourists to locals, everyone was on their feet, walking through the city. I have a very interesting memory from the day we reached Darjeeling. It was Buddha Purnima and there was a prayer meeting in the mall market, attended by adults as well as a large group of children. It had rained heavily the entire day. 

In any other city perhaps, the event would have been extremely chaotic to manage. But here, it was organised beautifully; the monks and the kids were very disciplined and there were proper queues to take the kids back, when the event wrapped up. 
— Piya Kapur, senior manager, marketing

Living in the Mumbai suburbs, we go for a walk to Sanjay Gandhi National Park during monsoon. Like the South Mumbai people go to Marine Drive. But, my Mumbai rains memory revolves around the deluge of July 2005. No kanda bhajji lip-smacking memory!

I cannot forgot that day. I had reached home early, so I didn’t have to wade through the water to reach Borivli where I live. But we had to deal with a different problem. The water levels rose in our meter room. There was a possibility of short circuit or a major mishap. So some of our neighbours got together and did some jugaad and switched off the main power supply of the housing society. 

There was no power in the parking lot too. A friend who had gone abroad asked us to check on his car. We could do that after two or three days and by then the carpet floor of the car had mushroomed fungus. 

Of course, lately, the situation has been better but you never know what the rains can bring. 
— Rajesh Surti, Tourist professional

I work with an NGO — United Religions Initiative North India and Afghanistan. Last year, we joined hands with G3S Foundation. The G3S is formed of students belonging to Purnea district of Bihar. Every year, Purnea, which lies at the confluence of Kosi, Gandak and Ganga rivers, is in the news for being devastated during monsoon. The students wanted to do something for the people living in the low-lying areas. So we gathered relief material and left for Purnea. Amongst the material we had packed were torches and batteries. We did wonder if they would be of any use; here, we were guided by our big city style of living, where we have umpteen electronic devices. 

On reaching there, we realised that there was no power supply and the women were glad to receive the torches. They almost hugged us and thanked us because now they could use the torches to go to the fields, to relieve themselves. In the dark, there was fear of being bitten by snakes or other creepy crawlies. 

In all our interactions with the people there, it became clear how concerned they were of each other — the men wanted us to take care of their women, the women wanted us to take care of their children and so on. 

I would like to mention here that it’s not as if the government authorities don’t do anything to bring relief to the people. They release foodgrains, necessities etc, but there is some lacunae in the chain of supply and the material doesn’t reach in time. We have to address this. We need to ensure that the relief and rehabilitation measures are carried out sooner and effectively. 

Once the people come back to their homes, from higher reaches, they find that their furniture, utensils etc have been washed away. The floors are damp. The overriding concern of every family is, ‘Where will our children sleep?’, ‘What will we eat?’ We need to find a solution.
— Subhi Dhupar, Regional Director, United Religions Initiative North India and Afghanistan 

As someone born and brought up in Jorhat (in Assam), a lush green town dotted with majestic tea gardens, torrential rains are part of the landscape. With the yearly rain, what hits us hard is the inevitability of such large scale devastation, a fact that has become a part and parcel of the people living in the North East. 

I have seen the Bhogdoi river swelling up and creating havoc in the lives of people. I have seen the Brahmaputra ravaging settlements, eating up a whole town. Therefore the rain — poetically rendered in many ways by two renowned Assamese poets Navakanta Barua and Hiren Bhattacharya — does not etch a beautiful memory for me. 

As a 12-year-old, travelling with my father and making exhausting journeys, especially during our Guwahati and Jorhat trips in summer and winter vacations, I have witnessed Kaziranga, half immersed in water, and people and animals struggling to stay afloat. 

In Char-Chapori areas of Brahmaputra, the uprooted communities surviving odds, taking shelter in refugee camps, is a familiar story. Nothing can be as traumatic as this idea of being constantly afloat, being homeless. 

And, yet the magic of rains and clouds does cast a spell on me. The university where I teach is in Meghalaya, which literally means the ‘abode of clouds’. My room in the department has a wide window — it frames the dappled hills and the ever changing sky. Sometimes it is pale blue, sometimes, a radiant crimson and sometimes, devoid of colour. 

It is more pleasant to watch the clouds brewing in the sky, listen to the roar of thunder, witness the dazzle of lightning, and then the downpour —  the droplets trickling down the window panes, the patter on the roof, that earthy smell wafting through the air. I devour this spectacle often in the university campus. 
— Namrata Pathak, Asst Professor, North-Eastern Hill University, Meghalaya

The mountains are always calling out to me. And, nothing beats trekking on the hills or mountains in the rain. The overcast skies protect you from direct and harsh sun rays, so ascending the hilly trail is not an arduous task. Yes, there are some challenges like encountering snakes in monsoon trek. But, what I have learnt is that the snakes are not keen on making an acquaintance with us humans. Once we came across a viper in a cave, where we took refuge. But on sensing our presence and footfalls, he slithered away. So, my advice to trekkers would be, ‘If you are scared of insects and reptiles, then they are more scared of you. So don’t go out of your way to make them uncomfortable. Let them be.’ 

I have also seen some striking natural phenomena. Like being 50 feet away from the spot where lightning struck. The white golden streak... and then the clapping of thunder. That moment from Kalsubai trek (in the Western Ghats, near Nashik) has been etched in my mind forever. Another moment from another trek to Kalsubai peak was watching the ‘moving clouds’, right above me. 
— Mangesh Dongre, Supply Chain professional

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