On Adimalathura Beach on the southwest coast of Kerala,
ARATI KUMAR RAO lay in wait for the southwest monsoon and watched, shutter clicking furiously, as the great wall of rain made landfall in an enormous, life-giving torrent. Arati Kumar Rao is a writer and photographer based in Bangalore. View more of her work at her website May 29, 2013: Fishermen at work under a brilliant cotton and blue sky. “Two days,” they said. The monsoon will come in two days. May 30, 2013. Still cotton and blue skies, and it was a huge haul today. The net bulged and ebbed and refused to leave the water. Catches from the sea are variable. On a good day, like this one, everyone will get about INR 500-600. So huge was the catch that pulling it up was out of the question and small groups of people jumped in to the water with net bags and brought back the bounty a few kilos at a time. On meager days, all the hard work can come to naught. Nary a few jumping silvery fish in the net. Womenfolk wait by the beach, aluminium vessels in hand, bidding for each batch. The winners hurry away with their fish to the market, to grab the prime spots before competition arrives. May 31, 2013 dawned gray and wet. But it was not the monsoon yet: the wind had not changed direction, the clouds were not rolling in from the southwest. Undeterred by the wet conditions, the fisherfolk hauled and young footballers played on. Patient egrets hunched by the fisherfolk, biding their time, braving the rain, until rewarded by dead fish strewn from careless baskets. Things looked different by the time the evening came around. Clouds were billowing in from the southwest. The seas were frothing strange colors. The skies darkened visibly… … and a wind whipped the waves into a stinging mist of brine And then, suddenly, there on an indigo horizon, was The Wall. Within minutes, the Wall of sky-water rushed towards the beach and engulfed it in a mid-afternoon darkness. And just as it was emptying itself on the beach, the weight seemed to lift, and a bland, flat glow pervaded all around. The southwest monsoon had arrived in style, and was here to stay in India for the next three to four months or so. Life in Kerala though will change for those months. Light rain that falls in the day is perfect for fish to breed. And at such times fishing, the mainstay of local folks, is banned, signaling hard times for them. Saltwater fishing will also be stopped due to rough seas. The fisherfolk may still put out, risking their lives, driven by a need for sustenance. Until the government issues a ban on fishing in the sea, life goes doggedly on for these fisherfolk as usual. Laying out the lines by boat and hauling the catch in… under darkening early morning skies. The rains, however, spell rejuvenation for the landscape. River flows increase… Banks of fern rise from the sides of the road... Boughs and lianas are smothered in moss, and epiphytes were everywhere. Drenched Malabar Giant Squirrels plug away at their ficus fruits unmindful of the descending sheets of rain. Curtains of green rejuvenate and hang everywhere, thankful for a reprieve from the stifling summer heat. Mist rises from the forest floor and melds with the rain... …and orchids bloom once again. Rock-faces seem to dissolve into rivulets as water gushes through and over them. Dry streams flow once again, on their way to join rivulets, which in turn join others, draining the basin of the seasonal downpours. The watersheds and catchments transfer their wards to the forests of the Western Ghats, which busily get to their important storage work. While urban roads clog and traffic snarls, while people complain and whine their way through the inconveniences of monsoon, almost everyone welcomes this wet, lifegiving punctuation.