KOCHI: At 1 p.m. the serious cloud build-up started. Two hours fifty minutes later racing cumulus extinguished the sun and left everything washed in an inky violet light. At 4.50, announced by deafening ground-level thunderclaps, the monsoon finally rode into Cochin. The cloud-base blew through the trees like smoke; rain foamed on the hotel’s harbourside lawn and produced a bank of hanging mist opaque as hill fog.”
In his aptly titled book ‘Chasing the Monsoon’, British travel writer Alexander Frater captures India’s deep-rooted connection to the yearly phenomenon. It is not just a happy, romanticised version of the rains. He sketches its poignant side, too — the deluge, the loss. An ideal read, with steaming cuppa, for the rainy season.
Every year in June, the Southwest monsoon reaches the Kerala shores with torrential rain. Of late, the word ‘rain’ evokes mixed emotions in Kerala. The scars of 2018 are yet to heal. However, there is something mystical about the monsoon, the petrichor.
“Without fail, it will be here on the first day of school,” quips artist T R Udayakumar as he goes on a nostalgic trip. “Though they were days of poverty, though the uniforms would get wet, though the roads would be muddy... one would fall in love with the rain.”
Over the past five years, he says, the Kottayam Art Foundation has been welcoming the rainy season with its ‘Monsoon Art Fest’. “We started the event in 2018. What better name could we give an art festival that happens in late May or early June? We usher in the rain, welcome the monsoon, with our works,” he adds.
Nearly 200 artists have joined this year’s monsoon fest at the Durbar Hall in Kochi. “About 500 artworks are exhibited here,” says Udayakumar. “From established artists to newcomers, who are just completing their fine art courses, artists of all ages are part of the show.” Not all works displayed are about the beauty of the rains. Artists and connoisseurs here celebrate the wettest season on Earth through several themes and genres.
“Who doesn’t love rain?” asks P S Jalaja, whose painting ‘Learning Mind’ is part of the exhibition. However, she quickly adds it is not the urban, romanticised version of rains that comes to her mind first.
“I come from a poor family,” she says. “When the rain arrives on that day when we are ready in new uniforms to go to the school after summer vacation, it causes a lot of inconveniences. One had to dry wet books above the stove, along with the drenched uniform. And, of course, the muddy footwear! Yet, you cannot despise the rain, can you?”
Kajal Deth, an artist and photographer from Cherthala, blames “human greed” for the “suffering” caused by rains. “Before 2018, I loved the rain. But the year I took up cameras professionally, the floods struck. My photography career began in that gloomy period,” she recalls.
“My friends and I had once travelled to Kochi to see the rain and take photographs of how rain falls on the sea. There we met a family under a shed, cold and worried. So, for me, rain comes with mixed feelings.” For academician and writer Babitha Marina Justin, rain is always an “intense feeling”.that influences her works.
“Rain has several emotions. For instance, the rain in Kerala is different from the one in Meghalaya. It comes in different forms and shapes,” she adds. “At the Garo Hills in Meghalaya, I watched the rain with new eyes growing all over my body. They burst like a balloon over the hills and valleys. There were times when all one did was watch the rain from the balcony.”
Currently based in Thiruvananthapuram, Babitha gets poetic as she notes rain is some she cannot live without. “We all transform into hornbills waiting for the rain if the monsoon is late even by just a day. We become worried,” she says.
Nature at its best
Artist Basant Panangode, who is also part of the Monsoon Art Fest, reminisces travelling “just to soak in the rain”. The forest, he adds, is the place to feel the rain. “The way the wind moves, the way the raindrops hit the Earth, everything feels different in the woods,” he says.
Like Basant, many love to travel during the monsoon to connect with Nature. Founder of Let’s Go For A Camp, Geethu Mohandas, says it’s her love for the rain that inspired her to come up with monsoon tourism plans.
“The rain inside a forest is much more enthralling than in cities and villages. Almost all our packages till August are already booked,” she says. On June 5, World Environment Day, the travel company would kickstart its monsoon tourism with a one-day trip to Chimmini Wildlife Sanctuary. “It will be an all-woman trip. Women from all over the state will be part of it. After that, there will be nature trails and camping trips to many parts of the Western Ghats,” she says.
“We are also organising river rafting in Kannur’s Thejaswini river. Usually, it gets fully booked in hours.” Founder of Kochi-based travel startup Weekend Planner, Thomas P Vacha, says monsoon tourism sees more of domestic tourists these days. “Before the pandemic hit, mostly foreigners visited Kerala to enjoy the monsoon. Now, most packages cater to domestic tourists, who want to enjoy the rugged waterfalls and off-roading, rather than stay in luxury resorts,” he says.
Near Ernakulam, Kuttikanam and Vagamon have emerged as popular spots for weekend getaways during the monsoon, Thomas notes. “Uluppuni Forest Reserve, 8km away from Vagamon, offers off-road jeep rides. More than 200 jeeps get booked every weekend here. Within the district, Thattekad and Neryamangalam are popular spots. Then there is the city crowd that relishes the rains, idling by the backwaters in places such as Kumbalangi,” he adds.
Renjith Maxy, a techie working in Bengaluru, says he is waiting for monsoon showers to begin in full swing to plan a motorcycle trip back home in Kochi. “I always ride via the Bandhipur route,” he says.
“Rains and my 1980s Royal Enfield have old chemistry. I love riding, and off-roading during rain. The terrain to Vattavada near Munnar is a memorable one. This season, along with my Bullet buddies, I would be covering Wayanad. Riding in the rain brings out raw emotions — unadulterated by societal compulsions.”
Cheers, says KTDC
Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) has rolled out attractive holiday packages intended for parents and children for this Monsoon season. The packages are offered at premium destination resorts at Thiruvananthapuram, Munnar, Thekkady, Kumarakom, Kochi and the budget properties at Malampuzha, Wayanad, Ponmudi, Nilambur and Mannarkkad. Packages range from Rs 3,499 to Rs 7,499 (inclusive of room rent, breakfast and tax for 2 nights/3days for parents with children below 12 years) and will be available from June 1 to September 30. More details @ www.ktdc.com/Packages or 0471-2316736/9400008585
Chasing the rain
Rain is a muse for many. “The first name that comes to my mind while thinking about the monsoon is of photographer Victor John,” says shutterbug Manikandan, better known as Manimudra. “His passion to capture each emotion of rain... he travelled across Kerala to feel it and to capture it. And, eventually, lost his life to it.” Manikandan is currently planning a trip into the villages of his home district Palakkad to capture the rains. He has ‘chased the rains’ across India, but his passion remains unsated. “So far, I haven’t taken a satisfying photograph of the monsoon. I plan to start the trip next week,” he says.
After the 2018 floods, the monsoon reminds one of devastation, gloom. However, as Roger Miller wrote, “Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet”. TNIE takes a walk through the romance of the rains