A Monsoon Diary
August 19th: It's been raining on and off for more than ten days. This morning, at 8 AM, we go to the Ghats in Bhitthur to watch the children from Chhunar's village celebrate Nagpanchami. But the real action is down at the edge of the Ganga. Which is now in flood. The lowest ghats are now under four feet of muddy Ganga. The dhobi wallah is still bashing the guts out of a pile of dirty laundry. Above me, boys crawl along the limbs of a peepul tree and then dive into the Ganga.To great howls of encouragement from their mates. While Chhunar starts to sound positively middle-aged: "Nowadays, it's not the same thing at all. Earlier, people used to be very fond of all these festivals. And they would come in groups singing and having a good time. But now, you hardly see anyone at the ghats. People are now not so clean in their hearts."
In Kanpur today it's also Gudia, when boys fly their kites. But there's no sign of a kite here in Bhitthur. I ask Chhunar why? "On Nagpanchami day, at least in our village, we don't have much kites. In town, yes they do. And on Sunday, because it's a holiday, people come from the town and fly kites. But we don't, not really."
What they do do here is something politically incorrect and definitely gender insensitive. For Gudia, all the small girls come with little cloth dolls, play with them for a little while and throw them in the Ganga. Then the boys fish them out and thrash them with neem branches. Unfortunately, Chhunar doesn't seem to know why the boys beat the living daylights out of girl dolls. His friend Ramesh says Krishna had gone to worship the chief Snake on Nagpanchami. And he brought home some female snakes. But everyone at home was scared stiff and said these female snakes would bite them. So the snakes were beaten until they slunk away into the Ganga. And Ramesh says you don't see so many snakes after Nagpanchami . They're all in hiding and licking their wounds.
August 25th: Had a picnic Sunday evening in Bhitthur. This is what respectable Kanpur families do in the month of Savan. We're deep into the month of Savan. Many consider Savan the heart of the Rainy Season, the true monsoon month. I leant to make pakories. - you take slices of onion or potato with green mirchi or chili, stuff them into a loose gram batter and then dip the mix into boiling hot oil. They puff up in ten seconds and that's how you eat them - piping hot, straight off the stove. Pakories are part and parcel of the rituals and customs associated with Savan. For example, young brides, in the first year of marriage, are sent back for the month to their parent's house - which may not be much of a sacrifice. But married Hindu wives eat stale food or basi khanna, while their men get hot fresh food. And the wives fast on Mondays for their husbands, or their sons, or their fathers. While the men just go on eating. In Bhitthur, another pandit told me that Brahmins are not supposed to cut their hair or their fingernails during Savan. Or have sex for the entire month ! Out of respect for Shiva!
The paper today has an article reprinted from The Times of India about conditions in Kanpur during the monsoon, from... 1915. It could have been written yesterday.
"The damage caused in the Bazars by the floods here has been very heavy, and at present it is difficult to estimate its extent.. Kanpur received in forty eight hours about half its average annual rainfall.... A few people have been killed and many have been injured. Houses have collapsed all over the city and much livestock has been destroyed. For a short time during the storm telephone lines were disrupted, but service was later renewed. Several of the mills have suffered serious damage to walls. The jail has also been considerably affected. But fortunately, the exterior wall was not breached."