Friday, August 04, 2006

monsoon or cyclone?

The weather here defies my clumsy attempts to understand my environment. Until two days ago, rain has been light, infrequent. Laundry dries within hours. My umbrella spends most of its time in my bag. But this is August already, and we should be halfway into the monsoon season. I ask my teacher, ‘Is this actually the monsoon? Has it come yet or not?’ ‘What do you understand by monsoon?’ he asks. ‘It is raining.’ I decide to be satisfied with that, and to stop grasping about for some ‘actual monsoon,’ as if such a thing truly existed. And when we finally get rains that do finally satisfy my pre-conceived notion of ‘monsoon,’ it turns out to have been a cyclone.

What I happily labeled ‘real monsoon weather’ kicked in about two days ago. It poured all day yesterday. And most of the day before these were heavy rains that did not seem sustainable for very long, and yet that lasted hour after hour after hour. The kind of rain that would have set Noah a-thinking. Then the winds picked up in the evening. We slept to the sound of doors banging and woke up to realize that the worst of it had passed through overnight. Massive healthy branches now littered the roads.

The power is out across the city, no doubt with many power lines cut. But no road crews need to be sent out to clear the fallen trees. Instead, already within an hour of sunrise, the city’s poor are out scouring the streets for firewood. The park across the street from our house yielded an ample supply of fallen branches, and very quickly small groups of people are at work with scythes and an axe, breaking the fallen trees into manageable parts. Twigs and logs are sorted into piles, as men and woman both work with good cheer. By lunch-time, women are on their way home with large bundles of free firewood on their heads. The cyclone has yielded them, quite literally, a windfall.

To me, this downpour that is not ‘the monsoon’ but ‘a cyclone’ has yielded only a small reminder of how arbitrary the act of labeling can be, especially when it comes to weather. Still, I catch myself wondering what category this cyclone would have been considered back home…

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