Coming of the Rains
Here in Pune the monsoon has begun. After 10 months of unrelentingly clear skies, the air dry and dusty, and, in past few months, heat exceeding 40 degrees C, now every day is like this … Thick clouds overhead, rain every other day, and cool nights where you can sleep without the rattle of the AC.
Green things now are springing up everywhere; vacant lots of dirt and rubble dotted with trash are turning into grassy, weedy fields. The tree that lives in our courtyard seems especially glad of all the water:
This tree I believe is a gulmohar, in English called the Royal Poinciana or Flamboyant. Its flowers are very attractive, and it has a wide canopy and wide, pinate leaves that make for a lot of shade. I expect the sweeper ladies who attend to our society don’t care for it, since these flowers drop in abundance every day, which they must sweep up.
The monsoon is one of the anchors of the culture here; people look forward to it like US kids look to Christmas, but more so. Here it is no cliché that water is life, and in the faces I see around me everyone seems somehow happier. To be caught in the rain here is no hardship. It is a blessing.
The monsoon expresses itself in art and culture here in a thousand ways. Endless Bollywood movies make use of it, such as the 2001 multi-national production, Monsoon Wedding.
A very famous image of the monsoon is the Cloud Messenger, a 5th century sanskrit poem. The poem begins:
On Rama’s shady peak where hermits roam,
Mid streams by Sita’s bathing sanctified,
An erring Yaksha made his hapless home,
Doomed by his master humbly to abide,
And spend a long, long year of absence from his bride.
Some months were gone; the lonely lover’s pain
Had loosed his golden bracelet day by day
Ere he beheld the harbinger of rain,
A cloud that charged the peak in mimic fray,
As an elephant attacks a bank of earth in play.
A yaksha is a kind of demon, generally (though not always) good. The yaksha of the poem has deserved some punishment, and so Kubera, King of the Yakshas, has sentenced him to a one-year exile. The yaksha waits in exile some months, until the onset of the rains. Then, missing his wife, he enlists a cloud to convey messages to her:
O cloud, the parching spirit stirs thy pity;
My bride is far, through royal wrath and might;
Bring her my message to the Yaksha city,
Rich-gardened Alaka, where radiance bright
From Shiva’s crescent bathes the palaces in light.
After providing lengthy instructions on how to reach Alaka, the City of the Yakshas, the cloud is instructed to send this message:
"Thou art no widow; for thy husband’s friend
Is come to tell thee what himself did say–
A cloud with low, sweet thunder-tones that send
All weary wanderers hastening on their way,
Eager to loose the braids of wives that lonely stay."
And so the poem goes.
It would be a worthy cloud indeed that could depart the Deccan Plateau, cross the Arabian Sea, Africa, the Atlantic, and make its way to Arlington, Mass. Of course, now I have to ponder on what message to send …