Saturday, April 16, 2011


The word evokes images of lashing rains, lush, green, verdant hills and valleys, and constant incessant rains. This was not the case for me growing up of course. “Monsoon season” my mother used to say as the rains began some time in June or July. It never really affected our daily routines and the nagging worry at the back of our minds was that the river near my grandparents’ would overflow its banks and flood their home. This happened on occasion and on one very bad flood when I was away in college in the US waters were almost 4-feet high which is the highest they had ever been.

Thus when I read Alexander Frater’s Chasing the Monsoon, I was extremely skeptical of his portrayal of Indians as being monsoon-obsessed. Around the same time I also came across the following from the National Geographic:

During the month of May, when the land heats up like a furnace and most fields lie fallow, when wells have run dry and the sun taunts from its broiling perch in a cloudless sky, there is no topic more consuming—or less certain—than when and how the summer monsoon will arrive. The monsoon season, which normally starts in early June and delivers more than three-quarters of the country's annual rainfall in less than four months, will begin gently, like a deer, the farmers say, and later it will turn into a thundering elephant. Or it will start as an elephant and then turn into a deer. Or it will be erratic and annoying right through, like a chicken. In other words, nobody really knows. But still, everybody talks.

The paragraph aptly sums up the tone of Frater’s book as well and it is an intensely enjoyable account of his travels across India following the path of monsoon. And yes, it does course through and shapes the lives of Indians depending on where they are on the path of the weather. Frater’s descriptions were so vivid and conveyed so clearly the joy, jubilation, anguish and difficulties of the people in his book that I looked forward to watching Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding.

I was not disappointed in that the movie was an exhilarating exposure to Punjabi culture that was clearly brought to fore by the planning and arrival of a wedding day in which the monsoon was part of the background. This movie is in my re-watch list.

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