My friend Dee Hobsbawn-Smith, just sent me a note saying I might like this movie, Monsoon. I quickly looked up the date for Calgary and see that I missed it by a few days. Now, just like the film crew I’ll be chasing a monsoon.
I would have loved this film and I’ll hope to see it yet. It won the People’s Choice award and was in the Top Ten films at the Toronto International Film Festival.
I just experienced my first real monsoon season in India last November. India heightens our awareness of humanity’s oneness. Monsoons manage to magnify that effect. Read on for more about what my initiation into monsoon culture was like and to learn about a special project the director of Monsoon, Sturla Gunnarsson, has started.
I’ve led cuisine and culture trips to India three times. Each year I’ve flirted with the tail end of monsoon season but managed to skirt around it in the interest of my guest’s comfort. Last year, I went a little earlier than usual and finally met the season face to face.
In Mahallamapuram, Tamilnadu on India’s South East coast, the monsoons were very mannerly and waited patiently to release their fertile weight in water till nighttime. Our days were 30 degrees Celsius made pleasant by the Bay of Bengal’s steady breezes. Each morning the earth glistened with neon green grasses. Saturated tropical flowers leaked perfume and trees dripped their abundance of water one drop at a time to the waiting earth. Hibiscus, frangipani, jasmine and bougainvillaea blossoms – knocked down by force – were strewn across the earth where our feet tread as though we were monsoon brides walking to the altar.
We climbed up to the Cardamom Hills of Kerala and again, our monsoon consort waited till day’s end to brag and swagger the night away with his thunder and lightning show of might. The roofs of our cozy cottages received the torrents in our stead. The hills were cool and the cardamom was ripe and begging to be picked. Water cisterns were filling and the dam was at a record high. The animals had taken to high ground. A day after we left a river washed out several family’s homes. We did not know how to help but we thought about and prayed for the affected.
Down we went to the Backwaters of Kerala – an ecosystem where over two hundred kilometres of Arabian Sea coastline meets estuaries with fresh waters flowing off the Western Ghats. This rice bowl of India consists of tightly knit tiny island village communities precariously glued together by ever-receding mud dykes.
I was returning to this place to visit my friend Mr. Thomas, his family and the people that make up his village. He knows them all dearly and if you know him, you’ll know them every bit as well if he has anything to do with it. I wanted my guests to have that opportunity.
We spent a pleasant afternoon eating duck curry and visiting with the family and then set out for a few hours of getting to know the neighbours and children. An hour ticked by, the sun beat down. A few friends made their way back to the shade, handheld fans were pulled out and a rhythm struck in their waving. A steady stream of water trickled down my back, front, brow, upper lip and a few unmentionable parts. My broad rimmed hat shielded most of the sun’s penetration and as we finally turned to make our way back, I remember thinking how good a cool shower would feel but then the sun faded under a cloud and the heat was a little more bearable.
The clouds seemed to pick up speed in their travels across the sky. Water taxis were sent for and we began to board them a few at a time. The first group made it across the channel to our waiting ride with ease.
The palm fronds rattled and thrashed above us as the second boat loaded and set out. Mr. Thomas grabbed his own paddle and dugout canoe to personally escort a third party as the normally calm inter channel waterway began to ripple. I held back with the last few guests. We watched the slow progress of groups unloading across the channel and the elderly paddler making his way back to us against the wind and heard thunder moving in quick contrast closer and closer towards us. Just as we set foot in our boat – it happened.
Monsoon could wait no longer.
A sheet of grey light and water covered us, penetrated us and – though shocking – relieved both us and itself in unison. Resistance was futile; submission the only option.
Water is always about flow and the only choice is to go with it. We struggle with that in life. A monsoon reminds us that we really have no choice.
Renewed, refreshed and unabashedly soaked to the skin – in an all innocence lost kind of way – we laughed and cried with relief. There are so many ways to find the soul of India. Abandonning care and living with what happens in a monsoon moment is definitely one of them.
My soul was troubled that we did not know how to help the people affected by the monsoon floods in Kerala. We saw crews of men trying to restore washed out dykes on our visit. The director of Monsoon is trying to raise funds to help a friend whose family lost home, rice fields and a few year’s income, finish school and become a nurse.
I was a nurse for over 20 years. It’s a noble path.
A nursing administrator friend of mine here in Canada just hired a nurse from Kerala. The young nurse told my friend that if she got hired she would do her “level best” at all times. Kerala has India’s highest literacy rate and at 99 per cent it is the same as ours in Canada. I’d hate to see Kerala’s literacy rate drop and the bright young girl in the video below lose her chance at the better life that is an education’s greatest gift.
I’ll be donating to help Akhila Prassad. Maybe you will too. After all, everyone deserves a chance to savour it all.