The monsoon is upon us. No word sounded lovelier when in mid-June the vast sky opened up and slaked the parched ashy-grey cityscape generously with the rains after the long spell of fierce heat the metropolis dished out during the last week of May.
It came belatedly, only on the 20th of June as against the normal onset time, the 10th of June. First arrived the gentle showers in fine droplets, but as the days went by—as unpredictable as they could get—turned into downpours followed by battering cloudbursts.
You can never tell when they appear or stop as quickly as they started, and without so much as a whisper pick up where they left off. Come monsoon, the heavens open up as they say it.
I saw it for the last 66 years, will continue to do so; so did my forbears in the same spirit; so will you, and your posterity . . . and theirs. Folks, like it or lump it, you have to learn to live with it simply because it’s the monsoon.
Green at its best
Yes, look around and you’ll find it green all around you—the countryside, the suburbs, the lush paddy fields and the forested hills that stand out clear as the rains wash the murky smog off. And this is the time of the year when the rains help to scour our rivers clean of the appalling pile-up of filth. I, for one, sit on my patio and watch my tiny garden grow greener, as it were, challenging the emeralds. My eyes stray from one plant to another seemingly jostling with each other to grow faster and greener, the creepers reaching for the sky, and the flowers vying for my attention.
Curiously, even the grass on my lawn seems to race against the clock in its bid to turn greener and lusher! And my little cairn sits in the corner looking awesome (took a lot of effort for me to stack them). I sit quietly and try to soak everything in. Lo and behold, even my turtle seems to enjoy it! Suddenly, I hear the crack of thunder and soon the rains arrive. I proudly look at my garden and ask myself: “Isn’t it green at its best?”
Gosh! That unmistakable scent as the raindrops meet the soil on the flower beds, the lawn, and the flowerpots! I just love it. Earthy, fresh—but what else—musky, pungent . . . ? My olfactory dictionary lacks the word to describe it.
When the raindrops hit the dust or clay soil, they trap tiny air bubbles on the surface, which subsequently shoot upward–redolent of a glass of champagne—bursts, and then like an aerosol sprays out that bizarre fragrance. Science says: it is petrichor.
Yes! As I sit back on my patio watching the rains, old memories come flooding by—some are sweet, some not-so-sweet, others bitter closely followed by past incidents that make for amusing anecdotes to look back on . . . and live them. I call them my monsoon escapades. One particular occurrence that took place some eight years ago in the lake-city Pokhara still feels like only yesterday. For that, we will have to travel back in time. Shall we?
Angling in Fewa
I’m nuts about fishing. Whether ponds, rivers, reservoirs or lakes, they draw me like the bees to the honeypot. Big lake, bigger bags, I thought excitedly when I arrived in Pokhara.
I hired a boat at the Fewa lakeside and set out with a local guy feeling high as a kite when I learned that he was an old hand at the game. My fishing guide suggested that we picked one of the isolated spots on the opposite bank to give a wide berth to scores of boaters that crowded the lake. Perfect, I said to myself.
The morning looked promising—a clear sky sans the monsoon clouds as we headed across the emerald-green water of Lake Fewa armed to the teeth with our fishing tackles. The lake holds gamefish such as rohu (Asian wild carp), common carp, catla (Asian carp), tilapia and bighead, among others.
The thought that I might run into a Golden Mahseer (highly prized by avid anglers) or two fired my imagination. Our small two-man boat made it to the opposite bank before we knew it. It seemed my fisher friend was good at paddling too.
We lost no time. Honestly, I could not wait to cast my line. I beamed happily to find no soul around the spot at the early hour. The water calm and beckoning. The forested foothill rose high up behind our backs. Save for the sound of the ebb and flow of the water that slapped against the sandy bank and receded like clockwork, the total hush felt almost spooky.
The cool crisp morning felt invigorating. The musty, earthy smell of the lake waters felt gratifying while the wooded hills reminded me of being in the lap of nature. “This is total bliss,” I thought aloud.
For bait, we had a mix of chicken feed and refined flour kneaded into a fine dough. Man, did it smell awful! My partner told me that he’d added a dash of tongba (a light local-beer made from fermented millet) sediment. This fish-bait concoction was Pokhara’s local favorite.
Apart from it, my partner fished out something from a plastic bag. It was cow (buffalo?) dung! To my great disgust, he made them into balls with his bare hand and wrapped up the baited hook with it. Ugh! When I asked why the dung, he said that the smell lured the fish. I’d done a lot of fishing but that came as a total surprise. Later, I learned that to be a common practice among fishers in Pokhara.
The fishing began. With bated breath, I hurled my first line weighed down by the wonder dough, then another. So did my partner—four rods in total. All we had to do then was lie back and wait with an eye on the tip of the rod for a tug from the fish . . . and, of course, our fingers crossed. Fishing means waiting it out, which could be hours without flinching a muscle. I regretted not having brought a book to kill time.
The waiting seemed truly excruciating as the morning drew closer to noon. In between the time, we changed our baits and switched the cast-spots. Except for feeble bites, not worth a jerk at the line, we kept in wait, pinning our hopes on a big catch. Time for lunch, my partner announced. He’d brought big fat tuna sandwiches that made my mouth water.
After three in the afternoon, I began to despair. No bites, whatsoever! On the other hand, my partner fumed and cursed. “Preposterous,” he blurted out, his frustration written all over his face. “This has never happened before,” he lamented loudly.
Later, my partner seemed to fuss about as he changed our hooks, added a little more of the smelly tongba to the dough and asked me to move farther along to our right. Practically, he did everything going by the book. I stayed quiet trying not to let my disappointment show.
For me, the improved bait, the rejigging of the hooks and the change of spot brought high hopes. I cast my line with renewed energy, the suspense killing me. Suddenly, at around four in the afternoon, the weather seemed to take a mood-swing as low-hanging dark clouds drifted in over the lake. The bag remained at naught.
And to confirm my fears, the sky rumbled and a bolt of lightning snaked through the air. Time, we called it a day, I thought. Fishing during thunder lightning is dangerous as the fishing rods, normally made of graphite or carbon-fiber, act as good conductors and may add to the risk of a lightning strike.
That was about it all. Resignedly, we hurriedly packed our gear and prepared to leave lest the rains beat us to it. I felt the first droplets on my cheeks even before we started. Before long, they turned into larger drops sounding the warning bells. Then, all hell broke loose before we could gather our wits!
Hardly had we paddled 50 yards than it began pouring, soon replaced by a cloudburst that tore down at us in torrents. We could hardly see five feet beyond the bow through the sheets of rain. That scared the pants off of me. It did not end at that. Damn!
Our luck seemed to run out on us. Suddenly, the high drama took another twist and we were out of the frying pan into the fire. The small boat started filling up with the rainwater. Soon, it rose to a dangerous level of the hull. As my partner furiously worked the paddles, I frantically bailed the water out with the small bucket that previously carried the fish bait.
I started shivering. The rains brought in a chillness to the air. I think it was both fear and the chill that did it when it suddenly struck me that I did not know how to swim. As my companion dug in deep with the paddles, I feverishly kept at hurling the water out, the rain almost blinding my vision. Did I pray too? I do not remember . . . I must have. Suddenly, a question flashed across my mind. Are we going to capsize and sink?
After what appeared like a half-hour, the dreadful ordeal ended. The rain fell back to a light shower. I still shook uncontrollably as we made it to the opposite bank. I eventually sighed in relief. Suddenly it dawned on me that I’d be celebrating my forthcoming birthday. Phew!
As I finished writing, the sky again opened up for the rains. Folks, its monsoon time!