Waiting For Rain

In Kerala, much like the rest of India, the monsoon can reduce a Region to penury, and its lack can cause the same
In a 'good' monsoon, incessant rains fill the lakes and rivers to the brim
In a 'good' monsoon, incessant rains fill the lakes and rivers to the brimPhoto: Getty Images

The flight nosed into a cloud, and we rocked with the turbulence outside. A peculiar silence crept among the passengers, most of whom were young Bengali men seeking the green, the myriad hues of green pastures of Kerala where it seems everything was in abundance but a labour force and rain.

The plane rocked some more, and somewhere behind me, a child wailed in fright.

An elderly couple alongside, who had been chatting incessantly, was finally quiet. I noticed the lady who had been woman-splaining family politics to the man with much authority now held his hand tight.

I wondered what the young Bengali men, almost all of them in the uniform of the guest worker (we don't say migrant workers. This is Kerala, please)—jeans, t-shirt, windcheater and sneakers—thought of this turbulent return to their workplace. The memory of the horrific floods in 2018 is still as vivid as they are frightening.

Even the man who hadn't stopped snapping orders on his phone from the boarding gate until the flight took off: "one samosa on every plate and one piece of cake. What else? Tell me what else…" had retreated into his thoughts.

All around me was fear and anxiety, which manifested as a reined-in silence and a determined grip on the seat handles.

Love it or hate it, Kerala's love affair with the monsoon is eternal
Love it or hate it, Kerala's love affair with the monsoon is eternal

I must have been the only passenger on that flight who was happy with the turbulence. An uneventful flight meant good weather. So turbulence meant just one thing—wind currents and hence the monsoon. After all, I was travelling to Kerala to renew my acquaintance with the monsoon.

For almost six weeks now, the southwest monsoon has been playing hide-and-seek. My daily calls to my parents would begin with the query: "Is it raining there?"

This wasn't a conversation filler, as it tends to be when two people have nothing to say to each other. This was a genuine query, for the answer would determine my next set of questions about leaky roofs, slippery paths, power outages, and the ground cover that, with the rain, would take over the land with the consummate ease of politicians building resorts on elephant corridor lands.

On July 17, which was the first day of the Karkitakam month and when sheets of rain ought to be falling as if the end of the world was drawing near, my mother said the skies had loomed a gunmetal grey, but all they had was a minor spell of reluctant rain, and now the sun was shining. "Where has the rain gone?" she asked. "Has it come to you?"

Bangalore, the city where I live when not in my village Mundakkottukurissi in Kerala, was going through its windy phase. For over a week now, a brutal wind had been sweeping the northern outskirts of the city with a menacing growl. Window shutters banged. Doors unlatched themselves. Around my home, trees creaked and groaned while leaves hissed and whispered. A neighbour with an expansive lawn who liked borders grown with mathematical precision, glowered at my trees as they threw dried leaves onto his perfect Korean grass.


Through night and day, the wind blew, pushing the monsoon clouds away. An odd sort of dry chill descended that sucked the moisture off the skin, leaves, and any surface it could find.

I would never be able to romance the monsoon with words when I felt like Dorothy, tossed around by a wind that came out of nowhere. So a turbulent flight into Kerala indicated possible rains. And my first real meeting with the rain was circa 2023. Except that, as we descended into Kochi, it seemed to have no rain either. The grey skies suggested rain, but the blanched greenery said something else. Of a monsoon that was behaving exactly as a government Babu did. A diffidence that leaves one feeling both helpless and powerless. A reluctance to do their job because there is no real accountability. How do you cajole a government clerk to do his job without bribing him? How do you coax a monsoon to do what it ought to be doing?

Not a drop travels with me to my village. When I was last here in June to celebrate the onset of monsoon, which I have done for many years now, the monsoon had failed to break. A few summer storms had escalated the heat, and the meteorological department said that the monsoon was lurking in the Maldives as if it were on the ED payroll checking on Bollywood stars and the HNWIs.

The villagers had said that the summer drought had been intense. It's been almost two decades since we saw the wells and canals dry up and the water table fall so low, they had said. Nothing is as it was.

Kids enjoying the monsoons in Kerala
Kids enjoying the monsoons in Kerala

Build a few more concrete monstrosities, tile some more front yards, and cut down more trees, and in a decade's time, if not earlier, you will be paying for water as I do in Bangalore—Rs 400 for a small tanker of water to supplement the trickle sourced from the community borewell.

And here we are, a week into Karkitakam when fields and canals ought to be overflowing and ditches gurgling like streams, and the monsoon still hasn't planted its feet in the ground.

At dusk, my sprightly 85-year-old uncle comes calling. Here is a man who straddles the past and present with the same ease he does his scooter (he learnt to ride one when he was 78). He's seen how the monsoon can turn a village into penury and how its lack can cause the same. We talk about how the monsoon once was.

The incessant rain would make everything clammy to the touch. The damp would breathe a mustiness onto cloth and grain, turning stone a mossy green.

To hear my uncle speak of the rain is to realise how real and human the southwest monsoon is to him. Like the much-awaited visit by a rich relative that turns into a joyless anti-climax, the monsoon has proved to be a disappointment.

He accused this year's monsoon of merely "kaati-kooti poova." Of making a production with grey skies, rumbling thunder and stillness in the air and then not showing up.

Evening turns to night. A lone firefly weaves patterns of light. I watch the night, waiting for some sign of an impending downpour. Eventually, I go to bed.

I wake to drumming on my tile roof. It's 2 am, and the monsoon has finally come calling on me. The prodigal son has found his way home. I pulled the sheet to my chin and snuggled deeper into bed. For that, too, is one of the many pleasures of the monsoon.

When I wake up at daybreak, the music of the rain is still playing. Plain and gamaka-laden notes. High and low decibels. The stately pace of the vilamba kaalam. The centre of the madhyama kaalam. The quick trot of the dhuritha kaalam. The rain beckons me into its arms.

The rain falls.

I make a cup of tea and sit on the swing seat on the verandah. I watch the rain as if it were an exotic migratory bird. Afraid to even sigh in pleasure, for I might frighten it away.

What tales do each raindrop hold? What lessons will it teach? What gifts will it offer? The magic of the monsoon resonates in me as a sense of well-being.

For now, the world is a beautiful place.

Anita Nair is the author of several novels. Her most recent novels are "Eating Wasps" and "Bipathu and A Very Big Dream."

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