Sunset, ananta chaturdashi

Yesterday was the big day for Ganapati immersions, the day before the full moon. As if on schedule, the clouds thinned and the sun came through. The rest of the festival season can now be counted out in cycles of the moon. In some traditional luni-solar calendars, the month of Bhadon would be half over now, and the rains will begin to peter out. In the corrected official calendar the month will end six days later than traditionally. It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future (as a Dutch parliamentarian is reported to have said). No one really knows how much longer the monsoon rains will last, but I guess I will be able to walk more often.

August saw fierce rainfall and monsoon storms. On my first walk by the sea after a month I saw several things that have not been cleaned out yet. I wonder where this now-rusted barrel fell into the sea. What a wonderful happenstance that it washed up where I could use it to take a photo of the sunset. Plastic waste is never so useful.

A walk in the rain

I couldn’t let the unending rain dictate my life any longer. On Friday I slipped my phone into my pockets, put on my walking shoes and a poncho, and went out for a walk.

The world was full of life and death, decay and growth. Lush vegetation, scrubbed clean with rain, fallen leaves on green leaves, termites scurrying along walls. In this dreadful light, the camera can’t keep up with the insects.

Nyctanthes arbor-tristis, a mouthful for such a lovely flower: the night blooming jasmine. They are flowering already, but the rain washes away their scent. A month from now, the fallen flowers will wilt slowly through the day, releasing their lovely perfume all day.

A strangler fig is slowly killing its host; terrible for the host, but possibly a wonderful sight in future when the fig spreads out its branches and aerial roots. The flooded earth has sent the invading giant African land snails up the wall. Welcome to the club.

Bracket fungi have reappeared predictably on the trunk of a tree where I’ve seen it in the last two years. This tree is sick. The invisible filaments of the fungus have found its bed of secret joy, and its dark secret love is killing the tree. A William Bleak morning indeed!

On the edge

The rains are beginning to die down. The epidemic isn’t. Passing clouds still deposit short and furious showers; half a kilometer away the road is dry. Official numbers tell me that every day about 1000 people in Mumbai are newly infected, about 70 die. We decided to mask ourselves and went out for a walk to Colaba and the Gateway of India. The Gateway was clearly a popular destination. There were police barricades around it to prevent crowding. A stretch of the sea front is opened up to walkers around 5 in the evening. We’d reached before the crowds, so I got an opportunity to take photos of the vista of the empty harbour, and the lovely old buildings which face out towards it.

It is clear that people will die if everything opens up now. It is also increasingly clear that people are hurting: the plumbers, the electricians, the taxi drivers, and also big businesses. If a few hot-spots had been locked down early and severely, like Wuhan, then there might have been a chance to beat back the disease and open up more fully. But, as the examples of China, New Zealand and South Korea show, perhaps not. So we live on edge. These masked walks, an occasional espresso takeaway, phone calls and chance meetings with friends on the road, is that all there is to the new normal?

A butterfly and a flower

Just because I am not out in the Sahyadri mountains this year doesn’t mean that the usual things you see in late August have disappeared. I’m sure there are several million people now looking at the flower of the kalmashi shrub (also called karambol, binomial Justicia procumbens). For several years, I didn’t realize that the cylinder is an inflorescence and the individual flowers usually bloom at different times. I would think that I came on it late in the season when the petals had fallen off. The genus is widespread in tropical regions of the world, and has possibly the largest number of species in the Acanthaceae family. This particular species has attracted some attention recently because of a chemical isolated from it which could be useful in treating tumours. I like them for a different reason: they attract butterflies.

Equally common at this time is the butterfly called the common crow (Euploea core). I think this photo, taken almost exactly thirteen years ago, could be my first one of this species. It was taken in the same hour as the photo of the kalmashi, in Matheran. I used to see the common crow everywhere in Mumbai before insecticides began to be used widely. Now one hardly sees butterflies in the city.

Sawan Bhadon

Traditionally, the monsoon is supposed to span the months of Sawan and Bhadon. We are at the beginning of Bhadon now, so one should expect rain for about a month more. It had been raining almost constantly through the last week of Sawan, but on the 4th of Bhadon the rain let up for a while. The Family and I put on our walking shoes and dashed out of the house.

Perhaps others did not have cabin fever like us, or maybe they were still dithering. Whatever the reason, we saw few people on the walk. In other years at this time we would have been planning a long drive and monsoon walks in the ghats, looking for wildflowers. This year I have to make do with photos of weeds growing on the lawn. I like weeds; you get more butterflies visiting them. They (the butterflies) usually begin to emerge around this time, but I suppose those which emerged in the last few days would have drowned in the rain. I guess those which pupate later will have a better time.

The heavy rain had not removed all flowers from stalks. On some hedges along the paths I could see flowers still managing to catch the sun. In the photo above, you see a typical sight: leaves heavy with pooled drops of water, flowers peering up from among them. Exactly fifty years ago a completely forgettable movie was released: Sawan Bhadon. The only reason it isn’t totally forgotten is that it introduced one of the super stars of that time, Rekha. She is likely to be over seventy now (contrary to press releases), but every now and then newspapers still write about her.

At one point on our walk sunlight found a little gap in the clouds and landed just in front of us. The effect was so dazzling that I stopped and took this photo. The long days of rain had brought down so many leaves; they were rotting into mulch now. This is the light of monsoon, astronomical summer. So beautiful when you get to see it.

Twelfth night

Twelve nights? Definitely more. By the second half of August I usually reach a milder version of the mood I am in now. It has been raining almost continuously for two weeks. I can’t even get up the enthusiasm to go for a walk. My shoes don’t dry by the next day. Even in the rain it would have been lovely to drive out to the Sahyadris and go for a couple of hour-long walks between mountains. But even that is not possible with this lock-down. And to top it all, one of the buildings I would pass on my daily walk has been sealed due to an infection. On days like this I just land up eating junk food and feel even worse the next day. No inspiration at all. I will just copy lines from a better writer.

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man’s estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
’Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas! to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you every day.

Breaking up is hard to do

During the last week the air has been full of the mellifluous song of chain saws, hacking away at the trees and branches felled by the storm of August 5, 2020. I looked out of the window to see two men wrestling large pieces of wood while another held on to the saw. A supervisor sat on a chair near them, hacking away at smaller smaller branches, reducing the bushy growth to something that the saw could more easily get at. Chopping the branches, breaking them up, is a hard job. Across the city, people are still at it.

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Ever since the Mumbai cloudburst of 2005, when parts of the city got a meter of rain in half a day, the media treats every climate story from Mumbai as a story of a flooded city. This time was no exception. This story is not totally false, because there was a fourth of a meter of rain in the day. But this kind of rain happens once in the season without so much destruction. By slapping a label on the story before investigating, the media, and, because of it, the rest of the country missed what really happened.

This year’s story was of a storm. The wind speeds were high enough that this could have been a named tropical storm. Property was damaged, extensively, by the wind. The 200 trees felled by the storm, and the numerous damaged trees also destroyed more property. Recovery will take time. In the rainy days that followed, our window sills have been crowded by mynas, pigeons, and crows, more than usual. We know this because they have been singing, cooing, and cawing outside our windows and waking us up very early in the past week. They are the refugees whose habitats were destroyed in the storm.

Like the media, I could just put a convenient label on it, perhaps “man-animal conflict”. This is not be totally false because it is annoying to be woken up by crows, but it would be misleading. The real story is that they, and we, will suffer as a result of the storm. The correct label for this story could well be “anthropogenic climate change”.