A Monsoon Diary

by Julian Crandall Hollick
page 3

Subashni Ali, a former Communist member of the Lok Sabha (Parliament) in Kanpur, hates this waiting.

"The great dividing thing is the monsoon... and the whole waiting for rains... it's the most dramatic thing that happens in India, and I suppose also in an agricultural society it is so crucial to existence that it is highly dramatized -the whole wait for rain.....by mid-June, I start physically panting for the monsoon, even though I am not a person who admires the heat too much... there is a terrible sense of waiting for something that is not happening. And I can't describe. I mean, it's just really, it's a terrible feeling. It's like you gotta burst, you know! It's very unbearable. Just this blue, harsh sky, and that sun just pouring down and the earth cracking, you know, it's horrible."

June 8th: There was breeze today. But the wrong sort of breeze! It's called the Lu,and it can drive you, quite literally, mad. Khushwant Singh, the novelist, describes it thus: "The sun makes an ally of the breeze. It heats the air until it becomes the Lu . Even in the intense heat, the lu's caresses are sensuous and pleasant. It brings up prickly heat, and produces a numbness which makes the head nod and the eyes heavy with sleep. And for the old, it can bring on a stroke that takes its victims as gently as the breeze bears a fluff of thistledown." Lu winds come from the deserts of Rajasthan. The locals call this final period of intense heat Mirgassa. Begins at the full moon and lasts fifteen days. The farmers have many sayings about the Mirgassa: That the sun is so hot that deer turn black; That any rain drops that fall during this period are "Golden Drops." Pure sarcasm. Golden Drops spell disaster! A good monsoon needs the land to be as hot and dry as possible, to create a vacuum that will suck in the wet, cool rain clouds from the Arabian Sea and up into the Gangetic plains. Premature rains means the real thing goes off at half-cock.

June 13th: Went to meet Chhunar at his house in Bhitthur village this afternoon. Bhitthur's about fifteen miles northwest of Kanpur, on the banks of the Ganga. Chhunar says the heat this year is later and worse than normal. And it's too hot even for sleeping. These summer months Chhunar grows watermelons and cantaloupes in the flat sandbanks that make the Ganges a mere modest country river, crossed here by a pontoon bridge. In two weeks these pontoons will be un-roped and stored high on land. The river will swell and quicken in flow: a ferry will then be the only means to cross to farms half a mile away, protected because raised on banks fifteen feet above the river.

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