by Gautam Pemmaraju
The migratory Pied-Crested Cuckoo is believed by some to ride the seasonal winds of the South West Monsoon to arrive in the sub-continent in late May to early June. It makes the journey from sub-Saharan Africa, traversing the Arabian Peninsula, across the ocean, visiting the Seychelles and Lakshadweep, only to arrive in Kerala at first, as the overheated land solicitously lures the ardent monsoon winds in. They breed during the rainy season, and leave the subcontinent in September. Clamator Jacobinus, the Rain Bird, or the chatak of Indian antiquity, is believed to be the ‘harbinger of monsoons’, proclaiming, as ornithologist Hugh Whistler has said, the imminent rains “with its unmistakably loud metallic calls”. There are several who keep a keen eye out for its mantic presence, but its parasitic proclivities cause much distress to the resident avian populace. I am yet to read of any sightings, far less encounter one, and its typical song is not one of the several songbird tunes that I hear everyday. However, it is raining as I write. Although a steady drizzle now, it was far more animated early this Sunday morning. Lest I am fooled into thinking that the monsoon has arrived, the first “impressions of a chaotic sky”, the teasing, ‘towering cumulus clouds’, are merely bold heralders of the much anticipated annual visitation, at once cooling down the region and giving the city a thorough wash.
As Alexander Frater writes in Chasing The Monsoon, he too gets caught up in the collective febrile anxiety leading up to the first rain, and then:
At 1 p.m. the serious cloud build-up started … At 4.50, announced by deafening ground-level thunderclaps, the monsoon finally rode into Cochin. The cloud-base blew through the trees like smoke; rain foamed on the hotel’s harbourside lawn and produced a bank of hanging mist opaque as hill fog… At Fort Cochin they were ringing the bells in St Francis Church. In the dark harbour small boats ran for home. Waves bursting over the scalloped sea were suffused, curiously, with pink light. The jetty, set under a small wooden gazebo, vanished beneath heavy surf.
The monsoons, “a creature of grandeur and complexity that defies comparison with anything”, in the words of MS Rajagopalan of the Trivandrum Meteorological Department who Frater meets early on, are meant to officially arrive in Bombay on the 10th of June. This year they have been announced in Kerala on the 5th of June, which is five days late, according to a press release (and weekly update) by the local Meteorological Department of Mumbai, and the cumulative seasonal rainfall in the first week for the entire country is 32% below the LPA (Long Period Average). The department however predicts that the monsoon will be a normal one this year. (See here).
The ‘big bang’ theory, of the rains arriving in one dramatic burst is disputed, and some researchers claim that there will be “less rainfall if it sets in suddenly”.