If you travel alone, you have time for contemplation. So I was contemplating the monsoon.
There’s a bit of the monsoon still going on, though it’s going away. It usually begins about the middle of June and ends about middle of September, so soon.. In a monsoon day, it will rain some but not all the time. Late in the afternoon is a common time, but there can be days of overcast and drizzle, depending, of course, on where you are located, and some days no rain at all. Over on the right side of the Bay of Bengal they get amazing amounts, 400 inches or so. Around here, I’m guessing 30 inches or so.
This year’s monsoon was very good and you can see it in the green that has sprung up all over the parts of India I have been in. In six months it will be all dusty and brown, but for now it’s green everywhere. Lakes and reservoirs are filled and the next harvest should be good. There have been some bad monsoons in the last ten years. In the way of democracy, good monsoons favor the ruling party and this year’s version is good news for the ruling Congress party in elections being held soon.
I first came across the idea of the monsoon in a Satyjit Ray Bengali film called The World of Apu (highly recommended). There is a beautiful “beginning of the monsoon” sequence. I experienced only one full monsoon during my last time in India, as we arrived in September, stayed 21 months and left in June.
It is an experience like no other. The long prelude is that the daily heat builds and builds from March. Soon the days are impossibly hot and you can do nothing between 10:30 and 4:30 except seek shade and water. The nights are only a relief by way of contrast. It is still hot, just not so much. We used to have straw shades that hung down fully on the windows and you could pour water on these until they were soaked. The evaporation as the air flowed through gave some cooling, but not a lot. They do this sort of thing in some parts of the southwest US, I understand.
The tension of the heat ends climactically in the arrival of the monsoon after two and a half months of the intense heat. I can remember the feeling of the first day, as the temperature dropped about 20 degrees or so from, maybe 105-110. The relief was expected, the surprise was the sequence of life forms that appeared. First there were the velvet bugs that were everywhere, red and mound-like, about the size of a dime. Children decorated themselves with the bugs, which turned out to be nature’s version of comic relief. You could not but smile at them. If you squished enough of them you got a beautiful red dye.
Next came the sausage bugs. Lacy-winged with long abdomens, they arrived in the millions and tried to get into everything, like sand in a dust storm, only a lot bigger. These turned out to be a universal protein supplement. Dogs ran around in frenzies consuming as many as possible. People too would set up a light over a bucket of water and the bugs would drown themselves in thick layers. Then they were dried and provided a crunchy snack. Yes, I can personally attest to their crunch.
More surprises followed until the routine of the rain takes over. People walk carefully, carry umbrellas, jump over puddles. Farmers attack their fields with plows and seeds. It feels like we have survived and there is another chance.