Notes on a Monsoon

It is thick into the monsoon season here in Sikkim, a time of great beauty and great inconvenience. Today I mean to go down to Sikkim University to speak to some visiting academics, but I was already soaked by the time I got to the main road. I waited futilely for a taxi to 6th Mile, but the few that bothered to stop for me were unwilling to go that far. And the rain was picking up, so I pulled my coat tight and shuffled back into the office.

I don’t mind the rains, usually. Even the monsoon has its patterns, and most days you can count on it raining in the late afternoon, leaving my mornings clear to go to the bazaar and my evening walk home muddy but tolerable. Even walks in the rain don’t bother me much. I have a vintage 1970s trench coat that had once been my dad’s, and I fancy myself quite the journalist in it, striding through the storm. For no particular reason I refuse to buy an umbrella.

And the season has its perks: the clouds. They layer the valley in the morning in ways that a prairie boy like myself could scarcely imagine. They roll up through town a clean white mist, obscuring past too many meters like the fog of war. Last night I opened my window and was shocked to see my own silhouette projected by lamplight deep into the thick cloud outside my room.

This year we are getting a proper monsoon, which is often especially crazy in Sikkim. A couple days of wet can quickly penetrate the soft Himalayas, loose the soil and cause landslides all over the state. But proper monsoons are good, since the glacier-fed rain here slides down the hills to water a huge swath of northern India. The storms, though they wash out roads and tumble power lines and leave the whole city a muddy mess, are necessary to rice agriculture in Asia. Even in Bangladesh, a country half-destroyed by floods several times a year, rural people perform weird little rituals, like frog marriages, to encourage the monsoons to come.

But then, it is hard to know what “proper” weather is anymore. With Pakistan underwater and Russia on fire, the sky has a certain sinister sheen to it these days. Sikkim feels it keenly, as our precious glaciers get smaller every year. Water in the subcontinent is on a terrifying time limit, and Sikkim will be the first to know when it runs out.

Rain is the kind of thing that I can always write about. Rain is primordial and perennial, but still constantly contemporary. It is beyond our control and yet, these days, its excesses feel like our own fault. And, yes, it makes my nose run and ruins my white canvas shoes. But a wet world feels infinitely more alive than a dry one.

I expect I’ll keep writing about rain, occasionally, when I feel compelled to write but have no topic at hand. I have to. It’s in me, somehow: the sky and the clouds and everything they do and everything beyond them. I am an up sort of person, even when it is pouring down.


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