Monsoon – The nectar of life

One of the mesmerizing miracles of nature in tropics has to be rains. When you consider the core property of tropics, it is the fact that the seasons are distinct. The tropic of Cancer geographically cuts right through the central province of India – Madhya Pradesh, and as a result, one can find 3 distinct seasons, namely the notoriously scorching summer, a bearable winter and an all nourishing Monsoon (Rainy season). Spanning over 4 months, each season brings its own distinct natural intricacies into the natural flora and fauna of the land. Summers in India heralds the beginning of a year long journey for the natural vegetation. That’s when most of the floras, being deciduous, shed their year old leaves and bide their time for the monsoon to dawn upon the land. The land heats up quickly as opposed to the oceanic surface around the Indian peninsula under the mighty sun creating a low pressure in the land, thus driving the winds carrying mother-lode of moisture into the land by the end of May. Thus follows the 4 to 5 months of nourishing monsoon. The dry, lifeless landscape of India suddenly transforms into a lush green paradise beaming with life!

As the South West monsoon winds approach the land, the first resistance faced by these moisture laden clouds are the massive western ghats, very rarely even leading upto cloud burst, dumping over 25,000 metric tons of water in just 1 square km. The cloud-burst term arose from the notion that clouds were akin to water balloons and what happens when a water balloon is met with a needle is left to anyone’s imagination. But most often than not, monsoons are merciful and forgiving. The saying “When it rains, it pours” is quite literal for Western Ghats. Once it starts raining, normally, it doesn’t stop for at-least 2-3 days. With a break of say half a day, it pours again for another 3 days!

Indian rainy seasons draw the distinction of having 2 spells of monsoon namely, summer monsoon and winter monsoon. The monsoon thus, defines 2 distinct growing seasons too, agriculturally speaking. The Kharif growing season (July to October) is when most cereals are grown and the Rabi growing season (November to March) is when most pulses are grown. Evidently, Indian cereals are water intensive and the pulses don’t need that much. But there is a twist in the story as is the case with most fairy tales. Monsoons are notoriously unpredictable. It is characterized by uneven distribution of water across the land. Often dubbed as farmers’ gamble, monsoons may sometimes be “inadequate”, a true hard-to-get. Thus, monsoons have serious implications on the local flora, fauna and agricultural systems. The indigenous trees however are not bothered by these surprises, they possess an innate ability to drink up a little amount of water it is offered during monsoon and with that it ensures it blooms and thrives.

The monsoon has been the key ingredient to the mind boggling bio-diversity within India. India is home to 6 Climatic sub-types and over 127 agro-climatic zones in a land area that is 1/3rd the size of US of A, where each zone has different rain pattern owing to the difference in its native bio-diversity. One beautiful example is of the distinction between the growing conditions of the Cumin and the Black Pepper, Cumin grows in the hot, arid desert of Thar while Black Pepper grows in the tropical rainforest conditions, and both being highly priced spices. Overall, there are a very few fruit trees that cannot be grown in India.

The perpetual sources of water in India are its rivers. While the south Indian rivers such as the Krishna, Godavari and Cauvery happen to be Non-perennial, flowing in full glory during monsoon and diminishing in its size during summer. The North Indian rivers such as the Ganga, Indus and Brahmaputra are perennial, and are consistently fed by their respective glaciers in Himalayas. Both South Indian and North Indian rivers are fed by Monsoon, mostly so in case of Southern rivers. True to their nature of nourishing the flora and fauna, they are worshipped as goddesses and mothers, and have great spiritual significance attached to them.

India owes a great deal to the monsoon for its rich history, prosperity and for being called as the “Golden Sparrow” during the medieval times when Marco Polo, a European explorer travelled through India. One beautiful excerpt from the history is of Vasco Da Gama, the Portuguese sailor who discovered the sea route to India. Upon reaching the port city of Calicut in southern state of present-day Kerala, he was so ecstatic that he filled half of his fleet with spices and the other half with pepper roots, with an intention to grow them back at Portugal. Having learnt of this, one of the ministers in the court of King of Calicut, Zamorin raised the issue at king’s court at the impending loss of trade if they succeeded in growing those spices back in the Europe. For which, the King replied with amuse, “He may take the pepper roots but not the monsoon.” True to his statement, Peppers need torrential tropic monsoon to spread their roots and to even survive.

The advent of monsoon sends the local flora and fauna in a joyous spree. The sight of rain clouds has the peacocks dancing in full glory to the random tunes of nightingale; the nights are marked by the beautiful lullabies of chirping crickets and croaking frogs, decorated by the floating light bugs and a rare sighting of moonlight on the droplets of rain on grass amidst clouded sky. The month of June also marks the reopening of Schools in India after summer vacations, an event not so celebrated by children. But the monsoon always paves way to consoling those children by exhibiting its beauty and cooling the temperatures down. And it is always a bonus if you’re made to sit next to a window of the classroom!

At the end of the season, grand old lady of monsoon bids adieu to the land, having blessed it with nourishing nectar of life and with a promise to return with the same nectar the very next year when the land would have again dried and become lifeless at the might of tropic Sun..

P.S. we are leaving with a tribute to that grand old monsoon, with a beautiful piece of music by Pandit Shivakumar Sharma, a Grammy award winner of the 60s. A classical music veteran of an Indian Instrument called “Santoor”.  The music track essentially captures the spirit of the haunting yet the innately charming, melancholic Monsoon evenings.

Walking In the Rain.

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