A Kodagu Monsoon
by Madappa PS
For as long as I can remember, the Monsoon season has always managed to remain close to my heart. The incessant rain, the dampness and the burning desire for warmth are things that make it special. Despite the romanticism, monsoons in the past years have been brutal on marginal communities, have displaced hundreds and have left some with no means of livelihood. I hope, with the next set of images, I can shed light on this revered and feared (sometimes it is the same thing) season, that I hold dear in the landscape of Kodagu.
With the arrival of the first monsoon clouds, agriculture begins to reluctantly take shape. Farmers scramble to get their fields tilled before the onset of the rains. Increased rental cost of tractors, increased labor costs, poor returns and red tapism to avail government benefits affect small-scale farmers in procuring monetary resources. Often people resort to informal loans from loan sharks at heavy interest rates, mortgage gold, or even give lands on lease. With the agrarian market showing little to no incentive, paddy cultivation has been seeing a decline in Kodagu.
The muddy brown water, with residues of fallen wood and plastic (which the water body is incomplete without) gush through otherwise dry canals that serve as minor tributaries to streams and rivers that they will join eventually. These canals serve as the first line of defense when there is gush of rainfall and water levels across catchment areas. Lack of maintenance, encroachment, and poor developmental programs hinder their functioning. Canals are breached, wrecking paddy crops and other water bodies in the process. Occasionally a human is lost.
The onset of rains also means that bright tarpaulins pop up, as protection for nomadic shopkeepers who use public spaces such as open markets to sell their ware. A large number of shopkeepers in rural towns in Kodagu depend on weekly markets to make a living. These public market spaces are often dilapidated (read: ignored by local authority as it serves a certain section of society). To shield their customers from the rains, these tarps are hoisted. The results are itchkie-pitchkie feet.
The rain gauge lies at the mercy of the rain. It patiently collects the rains, sometimes monitored, sometimes neglected – like a child. It is a marker of how much rain has poured. It will decide a few things – when to sow the seeds, if the school will be declaring a holiday, how much pork to cook based on the amount of water it holds. Interesting, isn’t it?
Ah, the tiller. This little Japanese machine managed to sneak its way into industrial usage. It is scary. It is an integral part of the local economy. From hauling coffee and paddy to being neglected when not in use, it is the machinery equivalent to how the Yeravas are treated. (Yeravas are a tribal group that predominantly work as manual labour in the plantations.)
The rains bring a fresh lease of life on all things. Frogs are also a part of this cycle. A boom in the population of frogs is another reminder of the rains. While the rain falls on the tiled roofs, the distant croaking of bullfrogs will be the percussion. Aquatic life rejuvenates, setting in motion an entire food chain that is reflective of the ecological health of the landscape.
A monsoon morning. It is cold. You want coffee. You do not want to go to work. You wish the rivers were flooded. You want jackfruit seeds. You smell the dung of an elephant that just raided your neighbor’s paddy field. You pray to Eshwara that yours is not the next. The forest minister plants a tree as part of his Save Forest Save You scheme.
Sleep. Everyone wishes to be a cat (well, most of us).
The tarpaulins make a comeback, but now to protect houses. Expensive infrastructural investments for fixing issues of roofs, walls and other shelter related problems during monsoon crop up, and tarpaulins become the cheap and temporary alternatives to protect houses and other spaces that are inhabited during the rains. They last a monsoon season, and are often discarded after it. They pile up as waste in the water systems.
Newspapers become an important part of one’s daily life. With no access to electricity and sometimes humans, newspapers become important to keep the residents updated about the various landslides, relief programs and even deaths. Besides radios, they become the only point of contact to the outside world (the phone battery drains rendering all social media apps unuseable).
A memory of an erstwhile era. Songs of SPB, Ilaiyaraaja and S Janaki now play on Spotify and Wynk. Old rolls of cassettes are now used to ward off birds from the paddy field. Brown tapes run across fields. The only sound that plays from it now is the whirring in the July winds, tied to temporary poles. The birds wait on defunct landline poles for the tapes to fall apart due to the rains and the gusty winds.
Butterflies. The break between the rains opens up a colorbox of butterflies. Waltzing around newly flowered plants and nesting under fresh leaves, they flutter around like droplets of rain. Their presence brings out little children to catch them in glee.
Monsoon begins. The muddy canals settle down. The water flows to the sea. Life trudges along. The monsoon begins.
Madappa is a part time dreamer, part time photographer and a full time food conninsuer with a terrible sense of spelling.