At the best of times, the rain god has been a whimsical fellow; choosy about whether he wishes to bless or curse. But in recent years, something has made him turn from being mostly gentle, and caring, an enricher of the soil and harbinger of life, into something more fierce and inclined to harm.
Evidence of this comes in many forms. In the increased thunderstorm activity, in the changing pattern of rainfall, in fact in the huge changes even the monsoon has been going through year after year. The picture of the farmer, standing against his plough scanning the skies with one had raised to protect his eyes from the sun is a popular image, but today the farmer is as afraid of rain as of the sun.
Earlier the rain mostly came to slake the thirst of the baking earth, and the farmer could look forward to pushing his plough through the softened soil, now ready to receive whatever he chooses to gift to it. Today, the rain, if it has already not visited him quite out of season, throwing him into confusion and threatening any standing crop ripening on the stalk, it could come, not as a gentle reviver of life, but a destroyer of hope. Or worse still, may not come at all!
This year’s monsoon is enough proof of the growing willfullness of an angry rain god. Even as cities reel under continued onslaughts of heavy showers that come riding the wild winds, entire parts of the country bake in the relentless heat of an unending summer. A recent estimate shows that 29 percent of India is trapped in a rainless oven. Fields have become cracked deserts, drought stands holding charge. The days when rain came gently and intermittently to add to the ground water levels seem to have vanished.
Bursts of heavy rain have become the new normal through every monsoon. They do little good, washing away tracts of soil, lessening its ability to retain moisture, so necessary to supply to the roots of the plants it might nurture. The city dweller may deal with these bursts as temporary dangers or inconveniences; but for rural India the effects are more long lasting and negative.
How then, does one cope with a phenomenon not quite under the control of individual, community or government? The wise pundits say that havans and prayers have reportedly worked in the past; and the rain god might just be in the mood to bend a ready ear and be appeased. Village customs vary in their appeasement methods: a village in MP decided that like powerful men, the rain god too needs young flesh for its gratification, and paraded 10 under-teens naked, with a hapless frog tied to a short beam that rested on each shoulder. And women, mothers perhaps of these very same girls, walked alongside singing bhajans!
Climate watchers and environmentalists have their own solutions, and continue to tom-tom them. But neither man nor God is listening. So what then? Perhaps to prepare for worse times. By conserving what we have of water, by finding ways to enrich the soil, and keep the moisture in. Wisdom says trees are great allies of man in this endeavour. And instead of holding an enquiry and punishing the villagers for their version of appeasing the rain god, educate them, and all villagers in ways of conserving soil and water. It’s a movement whose time has come. And must involve in towns, cities and villages, the young as well as the old. Or our future generations will suffer for the sins of our generation.
Author & Consulting Editor, Penguin Random House