The beginning of June heralds the onset of the Indian monsoon. And indeed, all appeared to be on track as P., one of the local teachers, had already alerted me in mid May of early heavy rain showers and even floods in the areas surrounding Neyyattinkara.
So I came prepared with brown plastic Crocks to replace my leather footwear that probably would not fare well in the watery weather and added a waterproof jacket to the essentials in my luggage. And my umbrella? That was discarded when repacking my suitcases at the eleventh hour as I would certainly not have any difficulties finding another one in India. Although being used to the British weather means that rain, or even heavy rain for that matter, is no stranger to me, I was looking forward to experiencing ‘the monsoon’, a kind of rain that surpasses every other rain: endless streams and sheets of water veiling towns and cities, mountains and mangroves; torrents of raging water cascading from the hills being funnelled through the narrow muddy streets; people wading through ankle or knee-deep flood waters, but smiling maybe at the relief from the crushing pre-monsoon heat.
On my arrival on 26th May, I immediately enquired about the advent of the monsoon and was persuaded it was coming: maybe on Thursday or Friday, but definitely by Saturday (31st May). So the weekend came and went and the sun was shining full of mischief, with not a rain cloud in sight. I sourced a map on the internet charting the northward movement of the South West Monsoon which indicated it should arrive on 1st June. Another blistering day; no need for the plastic shoes just yet… And so it went on the next day and the next and the next. I faithfully checked out the weather forecasts on BBC World News to keep abreast of the monsoon’s progress until suddenly on Friday 5th June a mere uneventful shower finally gave way to the long-awaited announcement that monsoon had officially been declared. That was it??? The monsoon??? Not quite the powerful downpour I had imagined; I have seen much more mighty deluges in England! And whereas I was expecting the beginning of the monsoon to be followed by unending rain day after rainy day, so far we have been drenched in unending sunshine… I am not complaining really, because was ‘the’ monsoon really to materialise, I probably will have had enough of it after a day or two.
And I can assure you it is not just the rain that makes life uncomfortable. Although power cuts are a curse of Indian daily life, they just happen with even more frequency in the rainy season and tend to occur at the most inconvenient times. My first experience with total darkness came about one evening right at the beginning of my previous visit: an early cooking experiment in full flow, a power failure extinguished all but the light from the gas flame and following my gut instinct to keep everything safe, I immediately turned off the cooker… with the result I had lost the only light source in the house not knowing where to find a torch, the matches or a candle. And Saturday mornings at around 9 am are particularly notorious for lack of electricity, when I imagine every woman in the neighbourhood switches on the washing machine at the same time. In school, on rainy days, blackboards, singing voices and textbooks are a godsend as they do not rely on electrical current, so I am a little apprehensive now that my lessons are supported by the one and only Interactive Whiteboard in the whole school. Better keep the vocal cords well oiled, a supply of whiteboard pens (or chalk) handy and maybe still take in my laptop fully charged…
Although the monsoon seems to have bypassed Kerala so far, Indian optimism has remained and ‘it may still be coming soon, sometime over the next two months’. I am waiting with bated breath! So, the monsoon may not yet be living up to expectations, but the menacing rain clouds and thundery downpours have certainly created excellent photo opportunities. And just in case El Niño indeed brings about a rather dry monsoon, I shall be reading ‘Chasing the Monsoon’ by Alexander Frater as this may be the closest I will get to the real thing this year…..