Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Seasons First - Rains in February

Into each life some rain must fall”. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

All of a sudden the light started to fade and in a matter of few minutes the entire sky was covered with clouds. The atmosphere reminded me of my courting days when I was posted in Kochi and Jai was in Mumbai pursuing her BA English. She had taken to writing poetry in a big way. Not to be out done, I once wrote a poem which started “The clouds pregnant with rain” etc and sent it to her. As I sat down , to read ‘India after Gandhi’ by Ramachandra Guha , I noticed the clouds overhead Jal Vayu Vihar were once again pregnant with rain. In no time the clouds burst and gave way to a deluge. A very unusual phenomenon in end February in Bangalore. It rained incessantly for almost one hour. The first rains of the season.

Figure 1 - Water gushing down

Figure 2 - No let up

Rains are always welcome and they generate a lot of happiness all around. It somehow takes me back to my childhood days, when, we as children, used to wade our way through the flooded National High School field. Getting completely drenched, dirtying our clothes and returning home to a warm scolding was a delightful experience. Hail storm or ‘Annekal Malle’ (Elephant stone rain) was pretty common those days and we used to go berserk collecting the hailstones in buckets. Those were fun filled days.

You would have noticed a distinctive smell in the air after it rains. One of the more pleasant rain smells, the one we often notice in the woods, is actually caused by bacteria! Actinomycetes, a type of filamentous bacteria, grow in soil when conditions are damp and warm. When the soil dries out, the bacteria produces spores in the soil. The wetness and force of rainfall kick these tiny spores up into the air where the moisture after a rain acts as an aerosol (just like an aerosol air freshener). The moist air easily carries the spores to us so we breathe them in. These spores have a distinctive, earthy smell we often associate with rainfall. which accounts for the universality of this sweet "after-the-rain" smell - Net

The next morning paper reported that we had received 22 mm of rain – a record of sorts and upsetting the mango farmers in the state. It’s going to be one less mango this summer. The rain cleanses the atmosphere and takes away all the dirt from building and roads. The colony looked radiant once again.

The rains are a pretty thing to watch. The trees welcome them and commence their slow dance, shedding their old leaves, dead branches and most importantly the muck of the modern city. Scores of birds, insects and other animals, willingly join this watery ritual and revel in it. Whereas we human beings, sit inside our shell and are content to watch from a safe distance.

The rains at sea are totally different; it is more severe and punishing. There are no obstructions in its path and it literally whips you as it passes. Just prior to the 1971 war, I was posted on board INS Kavaratti and was part of a task force blockading Chittagong. Few days into the patrol, we ran out of fresh water and it had to be severely rationed. Bathing was out of question, till one day when it started to rain. The ships broadcast announced “hands to bathing station” – the rain dance that followed was something to remember and cherish. Rain is elemental and takes you closer to mother earth.US club in Mumbai without fail holds “Monsoon Dance” every year and lots of people attend and shake their wet legs – very popular with the children and teenagers.

Shankars, Dores and us with all the children had gone to INS Tunir located on the main land Karanja off Mumbai for a weekend. Whilst there, the dreaded “Elephenta Storm” hit us (A strong southerly or southeasterly wind which blows on the Malabar coast of India during the months of September and October and marks the end of the southwest monsoon). The rain and the accompanying wind was so severe, it was not possible to walk straight in the balcony.
In end April 2008, I came face to face with ‘Mother of all rains’ in Cherrapunji. Having learnt about Cherrapunji from day one in school, it was really gratifying to be there and get wet.

Figure 3 - Highway welcome sign

Figure 4 - Distant view of Cherrapunji

Figure 5 - Nohkalikai Falls Cherrapunji (‘Jump of Ka Likai’ in Khasi language - Likai, name of a local woman )

Figure 6 View from Cherrapunji Holiday Resort

Figure 7 - Yet another view from the resort

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