Come mid –June and the South-West monsoons descend upon Goa, and you can’t truly understand what that means unless you are there. The tourist brochures and languid, sultry pictures of waving palms, happy people, parties, little boats and great fish, lull your senses into somehow believing that this is Goa all year round, but if you happen to arrive there anytime from June to August, be prepared for a shocker.
As I nested into the Goa bound Bangalore bus, I was heading to a monsoon whose ferocity and viciousness I had all but forgotten. The monsoon in Bangalore is a myth, which keeps getting larger by the year; we don’t carry umbrellas or rain coats and if there is a sudden downpour we just wait it out. The longest it’s rained here is half an hour and so no Bangloreans wears rainy shoes.
At the border we were welcomed by dark clouds, the premonition of doom and it began raining so heavy the windshield of the bus turned opaque. The wipers zoom back and forth, and the rain gushing down in torrents, giving just a second of visibility to the driver.
Looking out of our window, it was like heading into a surreal place. The barks of trees were slippery black, the leaves heavy and droopy; there is a flourish of life as nature tries to capture lost territory and every little spot, except the grey, smooth road had turned green. Everywhere you cast your eyes, its green, green, green in different shades and shapes, but it’s pleasant, smoothing, almost calming to the mind.
The sky stays an angry gray through many days. The cloud cover so thick, not even a blush of sunlight penetrates its strong armor. Goa has a significant population that works abroad, and having lived there for some time forget the ferocity of the south-west monsoons. Often, they build houses in the new fancy styles they may have encountered abroad – flat rooms, courtyard covered in tiles – and when the monsoons rule supreme for three months each year, you see these homes cowering in fear of destruction. Huge structures covered in plastics of yellow and blue, the windows all wrapped up, their balconies and verandas shielded from the lashing rain; the tiles gone deep green and dangerously slippery and for a brief time nature wins.
In such inclement weather, you would think the population of one and a half million would slow down their lives, and burrow in for some cozy rest. But no, school children trudge on like little turtles. Colorful raincoats protecting their lovely new books, people head to work, driving many kilometers mostly on their two wheelers, the place is abuzz with vinyl mushrooms, and man fights to retain his superiority. It’s a constant battle, man and nature fighting to win. In days gone by, people prepared, and stored food for the monsoons. Transportation was a problem then, and everyone was engaged in agriculture, not so now and people who about their daily life, making the rains an integral part of it.
One of the main highlights for us in the monsoons, when we were kids was to set little paper boats afloat in the storm water drain that ran by our house. The water gushed by with a strong gurgle and we competed to see whose boat went furthest. The rocks in the drain were the main obstacles and led to the sinking of many newspaper vessels. The monsoons were also a great time to take our rudimentary fishing rods and head to little ponds that formed again through the network of storm water drains. A piece of earthworm for bate and we would sit around for hours waiting for fish the size of your index finger to tug at our line. Fish is scarce in the monsoon, and all the fish was taken home by one of the kids whose mother actually cleaned and cooked them.
The fields are flooded by the incessant rain, and field crabs and muscle flourish – amazing that pesticides haven’t yet decimated them into a hot, spicy, coconut curry.
While being great fun for kids, the three whole months of rain are hard work for the farmers. Organic manure is still extensively used, and you can see folks with baskets of cow dung on their head, walking off to their fields. Ploughing is still done with oxen and buffalo, with the wooden plough held down by a man standing at the end. The sowing of paddy seed is down by hand. The pigeon population has grown exponentially claim many, and you see men and women, weathering it out in the incessant rain to prevent the newly soared paddy from being devoured by these little feathered pests. Soon, women will wade into shin deep water to begin transplanting the young crop, then the weeding, fertilizing, weeding again, followed by constant monitoring that the little mud banks around the field are holding strong. Rice needs to constantly have a few inches of water so that it grows well – ah it’s a treadmill. When I see the work put in by farmers, I hesitate to waste even a grain of rice, one cannot help but remember the manual labour, through health and sickness that goes into growing that food. In other parts of India, it is the loss of these very life sustaining crops that drives farmers to despair and suicide, touch wood, Goa has been shielded.
For three whole days we battled the inclement, hostile weather, as we had loads of outdoor work. The loud patter on my raincoat, as I huddled pillion on a two-wheeler. The rain comes down in sheets and one needs to bow their head in submission to keep the face from the incisive, sharp rain that hits you with the force of acupuncture needles. The rains seeps through the strongest raincoat, soaking your hair, your clothes, you can feel the dampness taking over, your body shivers with the discomfort and you usually come out of this downpour shaking yourself like a wet dog and feeling as forlorn as a wet cat. But that’s the monsoon in Goa and for a short break, offers up its own charming experience.
Pictures by Nagaraj Papanna