(All photos: Arati Kumar Rao)
The monsoon is coming… the monsoon is coming!
In India, meteorologists are the nation’s Paul Reveres. And in Kerala, on the sub-continent’s southwest coast, life is about to drastically change. Steady winds and sprinkles of rain have been rolling in off the Arabian Sea the past few days, giving the inland jungles their first taste of the three to four months of wet to come: sudden, torrential rains mixed with periods of sunshine are a welcome relief from the summer heat.
Experts are predicting this year’s southwest monsoon will make landfall sometime this week bringing with it all sorts of thunder, lightning, and wow. When the monsoon hits, it’s not just a storm — it’s an event. Last year, Yahoo India caught the spectacle on the coasts of Kerala thanks to photojournalist Arati Kumar-Rao, who documented village fishermen going about their daily lives amid the rush and drama of the returning rains.
Get a light misting with the CliffsNotes version below, or drench yourself in the full article, Wall of Rain: The Monsoon Season’s Opening Act, filled with more photos and diary-like entries about the annual event.
May 29, 2013: Fishermen at work under a brilliant blue sky on Adimalathura Beach, on the southwest tip of Kerala. “Two days,” they said. The monsoon will come in two days.
May 30, 2013: Blue skies and cotton-like clouds hang over today’s huge bounty of fish. On a good day, like this one, everyone will get about INR 500-600 (about $8-10). As the men chant “hai-ho” and drop the haul on the beach, the local women begin an animated bidding on the catch. The winners hurry away with their fish to the market, to grab the prime spots before competition arrives.
May 31, 2013: Today dawned gray and wet. The sea, the horizon, the sky have melded into one mass of dull grey. But the wind had not changed direction and the clouds were not rolling in from the southwest. It’s the change of winds, pulling in the wet, heavy air from the sea, that bring about the monsoon. Patient egrets hunched by the fishermen, 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 winds whipped the waves into a stinging mist. And then, suddenly, on the blackened horizon was “The Wall” — a menacing looking mass of clouds rushing towards land. Within minutes, it had reached the beach and engulfed it in a mid-afternoon darkness. The rain is furious. The soaking is beyond belief.
And just as it suddenly as it came, the weight of the clouds lifted. The rain is still incessant, but the drama had been replaced by the flat glow of sunshine and a certain happy magic. The southwest monsoon had arrived and was here to stay in India for the next three to four months.
Life in Kerala though will change for those months. For the sustenance-living locals, storm closures of the sea and fishing bans in freshwater rivers — the light rain that falls in the day means fish breeding season — signal hard times ahead. 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 and orchids bloom once again. Life goes doggedly on and drenched Malabar Giant Squirrels plug away at their ficus fruits unmindful of the descending sheets of rain.
Rock faces turn into waterfalls and dry streams flow once again, draining towards the forests of the Western Ghats. While urban roads clog and traffic snarls, while people complain and whine their way through the inconveniences of monsoon, almost everyone welcomes this wet, life-giving season.
Visit Yahoo India for even more photos of the southwest monsoon’s arrival in Kerala, as documented and described by photojournalist Arati Kumar Rao.