Monsoon Vignettes: An Appreciation in Black & White
In recent years my explorations in South Asia have brought me into close contact with the meteorological and metaphorical super-phenomenon of the monsoon. My focus areas of the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka are both dramatically impacted by the South West (summer) and North East (winter) monsoons. The significance of these seasonal rains on the landscapes, ecosystems and cultures cannot be overstated. Water is at the heart of the issue. The connection between healthy natural forests in the hills, water and the wellbeing of human communities is a critical link. It is a theme that has been highlighted by conservationists in the Western Ghats for the past three decades.
I had an opportunity to visually explore these themes in the summer publication of the India International Centre’s IIC Quarterly. The twelve images are from my work in the Western Ghats between 1992 and 2010. A few of the pictures have been exhibited and published but there were several unpublished images in the photo-essay. The images emphasize natural landscapes and human elements have mostly been left out in this selection. The Quarterly carried essays by Jairam Ramesh, India’s Minister of the Environment and a range of other notable writers and thinkers. I wrote a short essay on the monsoon to accompany the photographs. Here is a short excerpt from the beginning:
…In the summer months, as the earth’s axial tilt and trade winds shift, India impatiently awaits news of the arrival of the season of rain. Its timing, the predictions of its strength and how much water it will grant to farmers make the monsoon a rare geographic gem of interest to a wide segment of South Asia’s population. The heroes making these predictions are the atmospheric scientists and meteorologists of the Indian Meteorology Department. One imagines them pacing up and down the shores of Kovalam beach looking into the heavens for signs of the shift in weather patterns, though it is more likely that they are staring at computer monitors filled with satellite imagery and mathematical models in their offices in Pune. When it arrives, the monsoon comes after a long period of intense heat, paucity of food crops and general unhappiness amongst people living with the elements. The monsoon’s arrival is often dramatic bringing an explosive rush of gushing rainfall, cool relief and a revival of life to the region. It is metaphorically projected through the exuberant release of passion and erotic energy that are popularly choreographed in innumerable Bollywood dance sequences….