The weather is clearing up slowly as the monsoon dies down. Brilliant sunshine and no haze is the order of the day right now. On Saturday afternoon The Family and I decided to go for a walk to Marine Drive; we’d not seen it for six months. It was different. Not very crowded. People were mostly masked. These two youngsters without masks looked so much a throwback to earlier times that they gave me a twinge of nostalgia. I know that they should not be doing this, but I can hardly blame them. At their age you think you are immortal. I don’t want to take that away from them, though I hope they have sense enough to mask themselves when there are more people around.
There are reminders chalked on to the promenade. People took photos. I took one. The Family, who has been reading newspapers more regularly than me, told me that it appeared in the papers some days back. I think it is heartening that so many people are obviously being sensible. Hospitals are no longer over-run. The result is that the fraction of deaths in hospitals is decreasing. I’m sure many people are not getting themselves tested, and the actual number of deaths will only be tallied by historians in future. But the epidemic is destroying the country in other ways: jobs and incomes are lost, other diseases are unchecked, school meals have been stopped, less well-to-do children are missing school because they can’t go online. It’s too depressing to think of during a lovely walk by the sea. Let’s go back to admiring the view.
Last week, right at the tail end of the monsoon, we had the season’s heaviest rains. Of all things, insects probably had the worst time of their short lives in the last few days. Many of them evolved to fly, and they are too small to fly in the heavy rains. I would see an occasional crow or pigeon flying past my window in the drizzle, but there were almost no insects. I was happy not to have mosquitos, but the lack of moths and butterflies was striking. Now that this spell of rain is over, I found this moth on our kitchen counter. I don’t know who that is, but it is nice to see him. Unfortunately, it promises an abundance of other annoying insecta.
The fag end of the monsoon is always depressing. Just when you have seen a day or two of bright sunshine and colour to remind you of what the world could be, the endless dreary rain sets in again. This year is no different. It has been a depressing gray since the weekend. Without social contact it is even worse. On Sunday I could not stand it any more, and the Family and I put on our rain coats and masks and went out to the Gateway of India in the evening. An espresso carry out, a stroll by the sea, and the sight of other people, although distanced and masked, revived our spirits for a while.
I felt cheerful enough to take photos of the depressing weather. The Gateway looked forlorn and beaten down by the rain. Usually it is cleaned by a work crew long before Diwali; I hope that happens this year. Far in the distance I could see the usual semi-industrial wasteland of the docks below the hills, the feet of the Western Ghats dipping into the sea. I guess the time when these toes of the Sahayadris are chopped off have just been postponed by the economic depression brought on by the epidemic. One can see a silver lining in everything when one feels upbeat.
It was interesting to dive into photo archive for this and past Septembers, to see how monsoons end.
The featured photo of water buffaloes was taken in September 2007.
No time to wallow in the mire
Come on …
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.