My wife Bunny and I are rain people. We love it when it rains, and even more so when it pours.
Perhaps this is because we spent most of our adult lives in what was then called Calcutta. Unlike the drab, dry and dusty plains of northern India, where the monsoon by and large—or should that be by and small?—is a feeble excuse for the real thing, Calcutta, like other parts of Bengal, and states like Kerala, takes its rains seriously.
Before the monsoon arrives in early June, the mounting heat of April and May is broken by sudden norwesters—the ferocious kalboishaki which with much dramatic flashes of lightning and cannonades of thunder bring the welcome relief of sharp showers, said to be a sure cure for prickly heat.
Then a few weeks later, the monsoon sets in, a cascading deluge that floods the city hip-deep in water and urchins try to catch the fish which have swum out of their ponds and lakes and onto the submerged streets. Grass and trees and fields and parks glow an iridescent green.
Ever since we moved to Gurgaon some 20 years ago, Bunny and I miss the bounteous monsoon of Bengal, so generous in its largesse compared with the miserly trickle that passes for the rainy season in the north. Listening to the rhythm of the falling rain inspired the liquid lyrics of Tagore, and the fluency of the visual poetry of Satyajit Ray. For a good monsoon not only gives a boost to the rural economy, but also invigorates the inner commerce of the soul.
It was with such thoughts in mind that we decided to visit Goa in the rains, an experience much advertised by the state’s Tourism Department and by the local hospitality industry.
To paraphrase an old saying, there are lies, damned lies and advertisements. But for once the ads didn’t lie. Monsoon Goa is all that they’d promised, and more.
The land is drenched in molten emerald. The mighty rivers, the Mandovi and the Zuari, are made bigger and brawnier than ever by the vertical river of rain that washes down on them. The sea and the sky are subtle shades of grey, with the sun making intermittent appearances, a gauche guest uncertain of welcome. The breeze blows fresh, and clean, and cool, swaying the palm trees in rapturous dance.
There are few crowds, few tourists. “In the monsoons, Goa is returned to the Goans,” says Mathieu, the manager of the estate in Old Goa where we are staying.
Called Champakali, it nestles on a wooded hill and has two elegantly furnished three-bedroom villas, each with its own sit-out gazebo, a swimming pool and an ancient banyan with wondrously gnarled roots which can make for an improvisioned hammock. The wrap-around silence is punctuated by birdsong by day and the raucous serenades of frogs by night, to which the drumbeat rain orchestrates a riff on the roof. It’s a ringside seat to nature’s magnificent magic show that is called the monsoon.
What is it about water in all its forms—rain, rivers, the sea—that draws us to it? Water is life-giving; all life emerged from the ocean, and 70 per cent of our bodies are made of water.
Water is at the heart of the matter that makes us. Or should that be the art of the matter?
Subodh Kerkar, a medical doctor who gave up a lucrative practice to become a full-time multimedia artist and art activist, might say that the two are interchangeable; heart and art are much the same thing. Kerkar runs the Museum of Goa, MoG, a unique art gallery-cum-interactive learning centre where contemporary art is made accessible to people who otherwise would remain unaware of, and untouched by, it.
Kerkar says the sea, with its crosscurrents of trade and culture, is both his palette and his metaphor. A colourful mobile sculpture of huge chillies brings home how this essential of Indian food was brought here by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. Photo essays of local fishermen, choreographed in tableaux, illustrate their inextricable bonds with the sea. The beach yields a rich crop of brightly painted seashells planted by the artist.
And the rain plays counterpoint to the lifetide of the surging sea.
Jug Suraiya is a writer, columnist and author of several books