Oh Monsoons. The Indian Monsoon. Much like the’Indian Summer’, Indian Monsoon is one of its kind.
Renowned Indian writer Khushwant Singh in his book “I shall hear the nightingale” rightly describes the Indian Monsoon. He says “To know India and her people, one has to know the monsoon. It is not enough to read about it in books, or see it on the cinema screen, or hear someone talk about it. It has to be a personal experience because nothing short of living through it can fully convey all it means to people for whom it is not only the source of life, but also their most exciting impact with nature”, and I completely agree.
Rains are perceived differently in the West than in the East, especially the South-east. Monsoons, also called the South-east monsoons are not only a life saver for the agriculture and a relief from the summer heat, it is romanticized throughout the country for the change it brings in peoples moods and in general lifting the spirit of the country. While city dwellers might curse it due to the havoc it creates in their daily routine, even they can’t escape the peace it brings once they are in the safety of a roof.
Light patter of raindrops, a cuppa tea and one of your favorite hardcover (or a kindle), doesn’t it sound like a perfect rainy day?
So, here I’ve combined a list of my favorite Monsoon reads, featuring the Monsoon itself:
Where The Rain Is Born-Anita Nair
This is the first book I read thinking about monsoons. As a pre-requisite to all my travels, I try reading aleast one book, fiction or non-fiction, based in the place I’m going to visit (again, I try!), to get a little insight about the place. So, I read this book before and while travelling in Kerala.
As the title reads, this is a collection of short stories taken from various books, or what we call an anthology, based in Kerala. All the stories are weaved to incorporate the beauty of monsoons in a single book. While some stories are like poetry, defining the beauty of the shower and the life it infuses on its arrivals, the others are just stories of people and their life events taking place around this phenomenon.
The beauty of the book is that as the stories are not related to each other, you can take your time reading it, one story at a time and even club it with another book if you like.
It might not be the best guidebook to Kerala, but does a good job providing the local flavor with respect to memories of local people, customs and in general a feel of how life is in ‘God’s own country’.
Most of the stories have references to the rains, its arrival, how it affects peoples life or just a backdrop to their daily routine. Some of the stories/poems are translated from Malayalam making this book a beautiful literary journey through the lands of rain drenched Kerala, its people, its fantasies and legends.
My personal favorite stories out of all are
- Jaishree Mishra-Ancient Promises: A newly wed Malayali bride’s predicament
- Lalithambika Antherjanam- Sesame seeds, flowers, water: Author comparing her life with her late mother
- Vaikom Muhammad Basheer- Blue Light: A beautiful paranormal encounter
- Shashi Tharoor-Charlis & I : on caste system in Kerala
- Geeta Doctor-Mundu, meesha, kumbha, koda: The sartorial splendour of the Malayali male
If you are planning to visit Kerala soon or have already done that, shelving this book as a to-read won’t be a bad idea either way.
Chasing The Monsoon-Alexander Frater
Oh, how I would love to do what Mr. Frater efficiently accomplished in this book. Yes, he literally chased the Monsoon. While it sounds like fun, its a lot difficult than it seems.
Its like following your favorite celebrity, fan-girling/boying all the way, trying to get the first glimpse wherever you can spot them. The book is a very different yet interesting kind of a travelogue that goes beyond the usual touristy and suggestive nature. (No “5 tips on how to avoid the puddles while travelling to Mumbai during Monsoons”. No! you just can’t do that.)
Mr. Frater starts his journey from down south where the rain is born (there’s an excerpt from this book in ‘Where the rain is born’ as well) and culminates it at the peak of monsoons, at Cherapunji. In the beginning of the book he describes his personal and paternal association with this amazing phenomenon, especially with Cherapunji and associates the same with the reason why he comes up with the idea of embarking on such an amazing journey.
Throughout the book Mr. Frater has primarily tried to capture the emotions the burst induces amongst the locals from various regions of the country. While the whole country is eagerly awaiting the burst and welcomes it with open arms, the manner they express their love towards it and celebrate its arrival is very different. But again, that’s how India is, united for the cause, diverse in its approach.
The arrivals of the showers itself its very different in various parts of the country. While its really emphatic when it hits Trivandrum, its covert arrival in Mumbai seems to amuse Mr. Frater.
Although the journey throughout the country is very well described, I was fascinated more by the beginning of the journey. How everyone gathers at the Kovalam beach in Kerala to witness the first showers, it left me with a picture of the most awaited guest being welcomed into the house by all the family members gathered at the door, observing the guests movement with admiration and longing.
Its an easy read, with a lot of (but necessary) facts and figures relating to the climatic conditions in India and of course the monsoons. Apart from the beauty and life giving nature of the monsoons, the misery and suffering it causes the city dwellers has been just briefly touched upon.
The imagery, ‘girl playing in the rain in Mumbai’, ‘school boys frolicking in the drizzle preceding the showers in Kerala’ ‘That little house at the end of the subcontinent’ are just some of the things that add to the beauty of the writing as well as the Monsoons.
Obviously the journey is not easy and without any roadblocks, special mention to the bureaucratic problems that Mr. Frater faced and hence documented just add’s to the authenticity of this book.
Its a tribute to Monsoons and hence a book not to be missed this season.
Rain In The Mountains-Ruskin Bond
I think this time of the year, monsoon has already reached the mountains, and who knows the life and people of the Indian mountains more than Mr. Bond, Ruskin Bond.
He’s my personal favorite for Indian reading and light reading genre and with this book he wins my heart all over again.
Attention to detail, better yet finding beauty in those details is a summary of this book. The school boy, the new stream, the postman, the lady bird, the maple trees describing small little details about them in a way that the author seems to be absorbing the positivity emanating out of them. Everything comes to life in this book, the trees, the wildflowers, the hills.
Another Anthology, its a collection of essays, poems and bits from the authors Journal. The book seems very personal in account, as if you are viewing the mountains from the authors point of view. Point of view, not story. Again, that’s different. He’s not telling something, just beautifully narrating what he sees, maybe outside of his writing nook window. Its sheer poetry, the type I like (cause I understand this).
There’s imagery again, but not just that, author has incorporated descriptions about various sounds of the birds and smells making it altogether a rainy hilltop landscape experience for the reader.
If you are enjoying the monsoons in any part of the country other than the mountains, this book throughout your reading time is sure to teleport you to Mr. Bond’s humble abode up north. Its unhurried and serene, and meant to be read the same way.
While these 3 are my top favourites, there are plenty of books that have stories weaved around rains in India. Hence, you can also try:
- God Of Small Things-Arundhati Roy
- Blue Umbrella-Ruskin Bond
- The Hungry Tide-Amitav Ghosh
If there are any other books related to rains be it India or somewhere else, please let me know in the comments below. Till then, Happy Reading 🙂