Posted by: cochinblogger | July 16, 2009

Monsoon Musings

Kerala does not have a winter, but the monsoon rains that set in at the beginning of June act as the foil to summer instead. The rains sweep in from the Arabian Sea to strike the west coast of India, hitting Kerala first. In the course of a few weeks, it slowly advances to cover the entire country.

The advent of the monsoon usually coincides with the statewide reopening of schools for a new academic year (which runs from June to April). So the roads are more clogged than usual, what with school buses and vans also hitting the road, and homes crackle with frenetic activity as harried parents pack their kids to school, a normally well-oiled routine chore rendered rusty by the two-month break. And speaking of roads, the municipal authorities swing into action a few weeks before the onset of the monsoons, repairing potholes on roads and cleaning drains. Alas, these repairs are Sisyphean exercises in futility that are no match for the rains. After the first few showers, the roads return to how they were before the repairs. And the heaps of mud that the cleaners leave beside the drains just slide back happily into the ooze and slime of the drains once the rains begin — mud thou are and unto mud shalt thou return.

It’s a sad state of affairs that a nation that with advanced space capabilities (this is not a reference to spaced-out sadhus) is unable to maintain its roads in good condition. The root cause is said to be corruption in the municipal body, with palms being greased all the way from the bottom to the top of the hierarchy. Other irritants are delayed payments to the contractors who execute the repairs. In fact, the contractors themselves give advance notice that the repairs were cosmetic and would not survive the rains, pleading helplessness that this is the best they can do with what they are paid. And nobody with the wherewithal to do so is interested in finding out the truth among these claims and counterclaims and thereby rub the powerful state government employee lobby the wrong way. So, the public suffers the traffic jams and gridlocks caused by motorists slowing down and swerving to avoid potholes gaping at this display of human stupidity. And once the showers intensify and the roads flood with water, the potholes become death traps, especially for two-wheeler riders, who are unable to tell that a serrated pothole lurks beneath the waters. The monsoons also bring ailments in the form of coughs, colds, viral fever, and worse, especially for those who have to work in flooded fields (rat fever being a real threat).

Enough of the negatives. (I can’t resist one more: drying wet clothes becomes a tricky business.) I welcome the monsoons with open arms, and were I younger, would strip to my underclothes and run out into the cascading rain. The fall in temperature is welcome after the summer broil. The overcast skies are a wonderful sight, and there is the tingling anticipation and the indescribable odor of distant wet earth just before the skies open. New life springs up everywhere, wet and gleaming, from small fish leaping in the canals to the passionate advertising croaks of male frogs. Indeed, the monsoons are such a spectacle in Kerala that jaded Arabs fly down to take it all in and return to their parched native lands with a renewed appetite for life.

The monsoon rains fuel agriculture, on which most of our population relies. This year, the northern parts of the country have not been getting much rain, which is cause for great concern, as the specter of drought looms large. We rely on the monsoons for power and drinking water. Yes, these are showers of blessing indeed.

As we succumb to more and more digital distractions, may the monsoons remind us as we hoist our umbrellas, year after year, that we have analog bodies that need mundane inputs such as analog food, analog fresh air, and clean, analog drinking water.

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