Above Average

We are teetering on the edge of the Monsoon season. My attitude is different this year. Last year in Mumbai I was the curious expat, intrigued by the Monsoon horror stories related to me by other expats. “It’s awful, the city comes to a stand still”, “ The water is up to your knees, you can’t go out”, “You must buy some wellies, the water is disgusting; full of rubbish”.
At the other end of the drama scale to the “What’s Monsoon like?” question was the response by a friend’s teenage son; “Hmmmmm, it’s just rain isn’t it? I don’t know what the fuss is about.”

It’s just rain…actually it not just rain.

This year my position will yes, in all honesty, be a combination of these two extremes; disgust at the flowing rivers of mystery water which mean constant foot scrubbing and the teenage nonchalance of “it’s just rain”. But, there will also be something else…gratitude through awareness.

Above average is the monsoon forecast for this year. According to the IMD; the Indian Meteorological Department, the predicted rainfall for this year will be above average for most of India. After several years of decidedly BELOW average rainfall, this prediction is wonderful news. What is required is a measured rainfall throughout the season. Not a few showers and then a huge rain dump in the last few weeks. Steady and constant.

Last year everyone remarked on the poor monsoon, muttering dark warnings about water shortages this year. The media was full of stories of desperate farmers who had killed themselves because they could no longer support their families and pay off the huge loans they had been forced to take out because of the previous poor rainy seasons. The poor monsoon augured more suicides of hard pressed farmers struggling to survive.

One of the most outwardly obvious examples of the monsoon affecting crops was the onion shortage. Maharashtra produces 40-48% of all onions in India. Everyone eats onions (unless you happen to be Jain). Onions are a sure thing. If you grow onions, you will sell your onions…unless there has been flooding and your onions have rotted in the ground. There was onion hoarding, the price of onions in the market shot up, people were up in arms about not being able to afford a staple part of their diet – it became a political issue.

By the end of the monsoon season I was well on my way towards the apathy end of the “I’m not bothered” scale. If I got caught in the rain I would splash my way home trying not to think about the stuff that was swirling round my feet. Sometimes there would be comedy moments; my flip flop white water rafting through the market and me trying to retrieve it without getting run over in the process.
I would see people playing in the puddles like children, like you do before you grow up and get sensible. The young lads from Chimbai fishing village would swim in the bay, playing in the fierce waves. (When the water level drops you can see the bay is full of mangrove rocks, the water isn’t that deep at all!) How they don’t get smashed to smithereens goodness knows!
Regardless of how dangerous swimming in the sea was or how dirty the puddle of water was everyone looked like they were having a great time.
This is not a country where bathtubs are the norm. You bathe in a shower if you have that facility or you use a bucket and a jug. Swimming is not a commonplace activity – even in the costal areas. A lot people don’t know how to swim. So that wonderful feeling of getting absolutely soaking wet only happens in the monsoon. Playing and bobbing about in water is a joyous experience. The monsoon gives people that opportunity.

This summer has been harsh. There have been temperatures here in Pune in the 40C’s (that my friends, is in the 100F’s). A month ago, there were temperatures recorded in Rajasthan in the 50C’s…that’s over 120F. Those are the highest temperature in India since records began. These crazy temperatures and the poor water situation have lead to a severe drought situation. Water here isn’t piped, it gets delivered in tankers. Every building and community has water storage facilities. This is where the situation gets shameful. Most of the poorer neighbourhoods had already had no water days imposed on them well before the height of summer. Our water tankers continued to arrive.
Eventually, we too had no water days… but far fewer compared to our less well to do neighbours.
The heat and lack of water triggered my anxiety. I was in a state of panic…panicking because I felt I was overheating. I was panicking about not being able to use the bathroom, I  was panicking because I couldn’t afford to waste litres of water cooking pasta (Yep, cooking pasta…that’s the way anxiety rolls my friends).
Water was usually restored by the end of the day or early next morning. I had bottled water for drinking and a bucket of water is plenty for washing with…as long as you put the various body parts in the bucket in the right order.
It sounds ridiculous that I should be so traumatised by the brief lack of water. Even writing about it now is making my breathing quick and shallow and my skin prickle…(a couple of my anxiety attack precursors). The anxiety attack voice in my head was screaming HOW WILL WE LIVE??????

And that is the question people…How will we live? How will we live when these water shortages are a way of life for everyone, everywhere? It already is a way of life for many people. I cannot begin to imagine how people survive, both physically and mentally, in areas where the severe water shortage is constant and there is prolonged drought.

The IMD office prediction that the Monsoon would start in Kerala, the first weekend in June, seems to have been correct. I scan the weather app on my phone routinely. The Kerala page has been under rain and lightening bolts since then. By the end of June the rain should reach Maharashtra. We’ve already had a few thunderstorms. I like to think of them as preparation for the big guns. The trees, that all summer have looked like some sad stick arrangement, are beginning to wake up. There are tiny green buds visible. The aubergines and cucumbers in the market are beautiful. The river has risen ever so slightly. The eddies are a little more vigorous. The animals at the farm where I ride, seem to have inflated and look like their skins are too tight for them. My friend joked that they’ve been rehydrated…many a true word…

Pune has some thunderstorms forecast for this week. It’s still only June the 16th. There are some impressive clouds gathering overhead. Yesterday at riding there were a few drops of rain – literally a spit but it was enough to lift the aroma from the earth.

I cannot wait. I am going to be grateful for every drop…I may even celebrate with a rain dance.


*Petrichor = the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. From the Greek PETRA, meaning “stone” and ICHOR, the fluid the flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.


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