The North East Monsoon for the year has just ended. It has been an year of good rainfall- the best in ten years, say the villagers. The monsoon for me, was not just about water though; it delivered information for watershed design, it was a primer on rural economics, a reminder of opportunities being lost and an indication of the road to take for prosperity.
Chennai city and its environs -where the pointReturn site is- receive two spells of rain in an year. The South West Monsoon during July-August is the lesser one and it’s failure or weakness is not taken too seriously. The North East Monsoon between October and December is the crucial one. It determines the economy of the land. When it’s plentiful, farm produce is abundant, drinking water supply to the city is assured, money in rural households leads to greater sales of manufactured goods and politicians take note of peace and cheer and plan their moves. In addition to these two monsoons there is the odd storm or two that surprises the coast in some years, constituting either a bonus or an emergency.
Culturally too, the NE Monsoon plays an important role. It cools the weather down and lifts spirits everywhere. Beginning December, for 6 weeks Chennai has what is popularly known as ‘the Season’. Hundreds of fine-arts events take place at over fifty venues across the city. Music, dance, plays, poetry, art shows, street festivals, religious discourses are all enfolded by the Season. Christmas, Bakr Id and Pongal festivals also occur during this period. January 15 marks the start of the wedding season too and much shopping precedes it. Altogether, the monsoon is a key determinant of the wealth, mood and spirit of people. Visitors from abroad find this a congenial time to visit Chennai and several hundreds do.
Chennai’s record of rainfall shows it’s quite a blessed place. The official annual rainfall figure for Chennai is 1,300 mm, which puts it in the middle third of cities. But it is not an assured place. In some years the rainfall is well below that number and in the odd wild year, well above it. Historically, people had learnt that their water security lay in creating abundant storage capacity. It was happily a time when one of the ways a man could brag his wealth was to endow a well, a pond or a temple tank lest he should incur the silent contempt of people. So they were competitive brags as the rich usually are. The equivalent of packing one’s garage with high-end cars or celebrating family weddings as nauseous public spectacles alone was not enough then, to be called truly wealthy.