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  • Petrichor - the pleasant fragrance that comes after the first drop of rain touches the parched mud in our village house’s courtyard during the last phase of scorching summer is always nostalgic. The dark clouds accompanied with cool breeze and ethereal downpour that follows and the sweet petrichor have forever been the highlight of rain in India.

    Monsoon is India's annual miracle and has a unique sentiment of joy, rejuvenation and hope in mind, body and soul, all across the sub continent. Anywhere else in the world, nobody can understand the real sense of perception what the monsoon rain means for India, until they experience it themselves. After two to three months of scorching tropical summer, the Indian monsoon is a time of relief for everyone. It’s a time to rejoice and prosper.

    India’s Monsoon showers that arrive in the middle of the year has been extensively covered and chronicled by many foreign writers. The beauty and majesty of the rainy season has always attracted foreign travellers and traders to our country. Their narration about torrential rain in India encompasses expressions ranging from dismay and terror to delight and desire.

    The modern tourism of India is indebted to one travel journalist, who travelled across the subcontinent to fulfill his father’s dream of visiting Cherrapunji in Meghalaya during the rainy season. Alexander Frater, the British-Australian travel writer wrote his first book on Indian monsoon titled “ Chasing the Monsoon: A modern pilgrimage through India”, published by Penguin books in 1990.This book and the following many features in various international newspapers and television documentaries by BBC, CNN, DW German TV and National Geographic contributed much in launching and boosting  tourism in India in the early 1990s.

    During his early childhood in the mid-twentieth century at Vanuatu in the South West Pacific Islands, Alexander Frater, son of a Scottish doctor had been enamored by the idea of Indian rains through the stories he heard from his father. After primary school, Frater was sent to Scotch College in Melbourne, and later attended the University of Melbourne as an undergraduate in the late 1950s. He married Marlis and in 1962 the couple moved to the UK to pursue a career in journalism. Years later, in London, Frater became the chief travel correspondent of “The Observer” and won numerous prestigious awards for travel writing. Finally in 1987, to fulfill his childhood dreams, he visited India to trace the Indian monsoons from Kerala to Cherrapunji, and produced “Chasing the Monsoon”. He also penned, “Beyond the Blue Horizon”.

    Frater has beautifully narrated his encounter with rain and people while capturing India's emotion filled response to this fantastic natural phenomenon. There are paragraphs that leave you feeling drenched and free. What an amazing journey this book takes through the heart and soul of India!

    Frater decided to set out on a journey to India on the spur of the moment in a hospital in the UK where he was receiving treatment for neck pain. Meeting an enthusiastic Indian couple from Goa at the hospital tickled his fascination with the monsoon buried in his subconscious. That became the first line of the book:

    The first sounds I ever heard were those of falling rain. It was tropical, the kind that seems to possess a metallic weight and mass...

    The prologue that sets the tone of the book depicts a vivid bond with the tropics, a keen interest in the weather inspired by his father, a spirit of adventure, observations about people and an innate bond with the rain. He writes in detail about Kerala, Goa, Mumbai, Delhi, Varanasi, Kolkata, Shillong and Cherrapunji.

    "I spent more than a year to come up with the first line. That is always the most difficult line of the book. I was writing about such a huge, complex subject. But once I had got that line, I finished writing the book within six months," he says in an interview.Frater's writing has an honest ring to it, and makes no effort to overly glamorize or condemn - a common pitfall when it comes to travelogues centred on India.

    "My father had a great interest in the weather science. From my childhood onwards, he always tried to describe and teach me the natural wonder called Monsoon in the Indian subcontinent. He used to exchange letters with a friend from Cherrapunji Meteorological Station. He always dreamed and used to talk about visiting the wettest place on Earth.  I remember we had a landscape picture in our room, the rain set in Cherrapunji with mesmerizing waterfall." The picture was so much a part of Frater’s memory that it could pull him out of his "bouts of homesickness" in Australia.

    The journey in 1987 was not a one-time fascination for Frater. He has made the journey thrice. He has made a documentary on monsoon in India for the BBC in 1991 (World of Discovery - Chasing India's Monsoon) and this film became a real time hit across the globe, and later many National Television channels including DW German TV and Netherlands broadcasting corporation made films on Monsoon in the early 1990s.

     With exceptional sensitivity and wit, Frater uses facts, impressions and anecdotes to vividly describe his own experience of the monsoon while also illustrating the towering influence of nature over the lives of Indians. He narrates, “In Kovalam, you actually see this entity coming. At least 40-50 people make a chain, holding hands and welcoming the monsoon! It is sent to nourish India. The sheer joy of watching the advancing monsoon! It is an event."

     "This is the only season that has moods. It can have wonderfully sublime moods. Sometimes it is grumpy, sometimes it is happy. And it is the same monsoon." Fratersounds absolutely convinced about the excitement the rainy season offers.  Several anecdotes in the book confirm that he takes much pleasure in exploring the myths and stories about music and prayers that compel the rain gods to oblige.

    Moreover, theories about the healing qualities of rain also manage to get his attention: "Seasons in temperate climate are quite boring. Here, it is such a huge phenomenon. As nature recoups with the rains, it is rejuvenation time for humans too. According to Ayurveda, monsoon is the best season for rejuvenation therapies. During the monsoon season, the atmosphere remains dust-free and cool, opening the pores of the body to the maximum, making it most receptive to herbal oils and therapy”.

    He celebrates the quirks of a simply-crazy-about-the-rains country in his writing .The harsh facts of deforestation, landslides, environmental hazards, floods, population pressures and death all stay as well."There is romance in the Monsoon season but there is a reverse side as well — floods, death and deprivation”.

     Frater’s account moves from being a blissful longing for the torrential rains he had heard so much about to the emotion of awe on facing the deluge which he considered to be a “roaring cataract of falling, foaming water.” There were moments when he greeted the first rains, like that in Cochin, and then there were others when he just missed them, like that in Goa.

    “At 1 p.m. the serious cloud build-up started. Two hours fifty minutes later racing cumulus extinguished the sun and left everything washed in an inky violet light. 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 harbor side lawn and produced a bank of hanging mist opaque as hill fog. In the coffee shop the waiters rushed to the windows, clapping and yelling, their customers forgotten. One, emerging from the kitchen bearing a teapot destined for the conference room, glimpsed the magniloquent spectacle outside, banged the teapot down on my table and ran to join them crying, ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!,” wrote Frater about the arrival of monsoons in Cochin.

    For Frater, the monsoons in India remained the ideal romantic phenomenon that was the key to the country’s charm despite its impoverishment. “As a romantic ideal, turbulent, impoverished India could still weave its spell, and the key to it all - the colours, the moods, the scents, the subtle, mysterious light, the poetry, the heightened expectations, the kind of beauty that made your heart miss a beat - well, that remained the monsoon,” writes Frater. “I made the journey for both of us, to fulfill my father’s dream”.








    Tourism India, India's Travel & Tourism Magazine, Kerala, India.

     

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  • When Heaven showers the blessings, the earth starts the courtship with Monsoon. As always, Monsoon comes unfailingly every year in the first week of June and its predictable nature is an Indian charm too. It is so fascinating that the onset of monsoon is defined by a host of some exotic natural parameters which works with its punctuality, which is unbelievable. It is easy to chase the Monsoon as it is pulsative as well its onset across the sub continent is staggered. If the onset in the southern most part of India is on June 1, it would be on June 6 in Mumbai or Calcutta and the 12th further north. And as we travel ahead of these clouds and watch the first rains across the country, we experience a new thrill every time as the arched Earth heartily welcomes it.

    Monsoon season is an unlikely time for most tourists to be in India and there are a few who do like to stay and enjoy the sensuous mood of nature- dark and mysterious, yet predictable. Indian monsoon has two phases. The first one is the South-West Monsoon which onsets in June and has two branches. One enters in the western shore of the peninsula and travels North-East, while the other gets in through the northern end of Bay of Bengal and splits at the Khasi Hills, one branch travelling to the west and the other escaping to Myanmar. The first phase dissolves in the pressure trough extending from Rajasthan to Calcutta. By September the monsoon starts retreating and flows in a South-West direction. This starts the second phase- the North-East Monsoon.

    Indian monsoon is familiar to Non-Indians from historic times itself. The word monsoon has its origin from the Arabic word ‘Mausim’ means season. The term is used to refer a seasonal wind which blows with consistency and regularity during a part of the year. In ancient times it was used by Greek historians of Alexander the Great’s period and recorded it in 355-323 BC and Faxian(or Fa Hsein), a Buddhist scholar & traveller from China wrote in “Record of Buddist Kingdoms” about his encounter of winter monsoon during a voyage along the east coast of India in 400 AD. “The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea” written by an unknown Greek sailor around 60 AD also describes Monsoon. Ancient Arab merchants knew about this phenomenon and profited in their spice trade voyages to Kerala, and in 1498 Vasco Da Gama utilized this knowledge to discover a sea route between Europe and India.

    Indian monsoon marks its mention in ancient texts. The verses in the Rigveda carry reference to the rain time. Over the years, monsoon inspired painting, music, literature and other art forms in India. Some times its tender mood reflects sadness but some times it is romantic. One of the most beautiful descriptions about monsoon can be found in ‘Meghadoot’, a Sanskrit classic by Kalidasa,the lyrical poet of 6th century AD. In ‘Meghadoot’ Kalidasa describes the arrival of rain over Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh on the first day of Ashada, 15th of June.

    Several references in ancient Sanskrit texts reveal that from prehistoric period onwards many attempts were made to forecast weather based on meteorological conditions. The Brihat-samhitha (An encyclopedia of astronomy and meteorology prevalent in ancient times) by Varaahamihira around the 6th century indicates that long range forecast of monthly rainfalls were attempted on the basis of clouds. The clouds that are formed in first month of Chaithra (April) will yield water in the latter half of Ashwin (September). And those that are formed in later half of Chaithra will rain in the first half of Karthika (October) (Couplets 9-12, Chapter XXI, Brihat Samhitha).

    Government of India launched a study about the behavior of monsoon because of the severe drought and famine of 1877. Henry Blanford, the then meteorological reporter noted the heavy snow fall in the Himalayas and the rainfall in India and Burma. In June 1886 the first report of operational forecast was issued, making India as the first country in the world to issue long range forecast of weather.

    Kerala is fortunate to be the first state to receive the monsoon in India, and the onset date of monsoon here is quite early, while the other parts of the country fries under summer heat. Indian life is extremely dependent on the monsoon. The agricultural production is super-sensitive to monsoon rains.

    In 1910 a long forecast model based on a phenomenon called ‘Southern Oscillation’ was developed by Sir Gilbert Walker, who headed the Indian Meteorological Services from 1904 to 1921. The 16 parameter monsoon model based on 16 land-ocean atmospheric forces that predicts the quantity of the rain fall that will be obtained during the June 1- to September 30 period in the whole country.

    Monsoon in other continents are not as well pronounced as Indian Monsoon. Seasonal changes in the direction of wind occur over North Australia, East and West Africa and South America. North West winds that blow from Atlantic Ocean into Europe during June and July is referred as European Monsoon. The summer monsoon in China is known as Mei Yu. It occurs from early June to mid July which causes floods in the Yangtez river valley. The summer monsoon in Japan is known as Baiu.

     Indian English Writer Kamaladas said that Monsoon is nothing less than the reaffirmation of life. Arundhathi Roy described Monsoon in her book ‘The God of Small Things’.  But the most touching portrait in literature about Monsoon was done by Alexander Frater, a travel writer with the Observer, London in his book ‘Chasing The Monsoon’. The travelogue reveals the story of Frater's journey through India in pursuit of the astonishing Indian summer monsoon. Frater draws a picture as Indian summer monsoon will begin to envelop the country in two great wet arms, one coming from the east, the other from the west. They are united over central India around 10th July, a date that can be calculated within seven or eight days. He tracks the monsoon's path across India and describes about Indian life, weather, places and people. Frater's journey takes him to Bangkok and the cowboy town on the Thai-Malaysian border to Rangoon and Akyab in Burma.

    Millets are considered the most suited crop for Monsoon rainfall. Paddy depends on rainfall and therefore is prone to water logging and floods. To avoid this, the date of commencement of monsoon will help to adjust the time of sowing. Farmers who are familiar with the vagaries of monsoon are keen to keep a second row of crops ready in case of early or late occurrence of rainfall. A good monsoon raises agriculture’s contribution to GDP growth, while a drought year depresses it. Clearly, governments need to invest consistently to harvest the monsoon, both on the surface and underground, with community participation. The best thing for Kerala in the Monsoon season is its Sukha Chikitsa, an Ayuvedic rejuvenation therapy of massage and diet.

     However the dark monsoon is not a time for brooding; it’s the time for fresh growth.















    Tourism India, India;s Travel & Tourism Magazine, Kerala India

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