Mortal man is heir to fears and forebodings of evil and sorrow as well as to intimations of immortality. There is no greater harbinger of the perpetual renewal and revival of hope and life in all its forms than the rains that fall like manna from the heavens and assuge the broken earth, withering trees, thirsty men and animals. There is a regularity with nature, and the seasons unwind themselves with inexorable resolve. The birds in the air, the animals on the farm and an average Indian peasant can anticipate the arrival of rains even more correctly than the meteorologists aided with latest scientific skill.

Our mystics and poets described the many splendored beauties of the playful fancies of the mighty skies which bring ‘’showers to the thirsting flowers, from the seas and the streams’’. Let the dark apparition shrouding the sky be late by a few days or weeks; Brahmin priests offer  havan and pray to Varuna to be more merciful to mankind. Naked virgin girls in Bastar and Rajasthan, their long black tresses adorned with jasmine, their anklets jingling, sing, dance and pray for the rain. Paradoxically a plane swoops into the sky to seed the reluctant clouds with sodium chloride so that they may be made to abort the water they carry in their womb.

The rains are in full swing; we should have an abundance of it this year promising a better harvest, fuller reservoirs , more drinking water for next summer and more power generation from hydel projects. This is the annual renewal and revival that the rains bring and even as children float their paper boats destined for distant destinations, only to be swallowed by the gurgling waters of the gutters, adults are transported to otherworldly thoughts. Do they have intimations of immortality or do they only pine for the past and ponder on what might have been?

Two of our greatest poets, Kalidasa and Rabindranath Tagore, have paid their lyrical homage to the  clouds in the sky. Both affirm that while every season brings about a change in the human mind and its make-up, it is during the rainy season that it becomes most introspective, sometimes hopeless but always wondering.

There is no better description of the beauties of this great land of ours (described by the great poet as “Sare jahan se achha hindostan hamara”) than the Meghasandesa of Kalidasa has delineated. Centuries later Tagore’s commentary entitled  Meghapraturbhava opened up new vistas on human behaviour. While terror rides the rivers, thunder split the skies and rain falls in torrents, many a magic casement is thrown wide open for the reflective person who while regretting the transient nature of life, is all the same aware of its continuity in one form or another  ~  Will I be here when the next monsoon arrives with all its familiar fanfare? Will I be witness to the rainbow which a setting sun gives as a parting gift to the cleansed eastern sky? Will I be here to see the little children dancing in the pools and puddles? Will I be here to see the peacock dancing or the snake taking shelter under its plume?

We all can ask ourselves these questions but even as every year villages are destroyed, thousands of people drowned and herds of cattle washed away by the raging surge of the rivers hastening to rest in the bosom of the sea, the ravaging waters also sow seeds for the future, to sprout after a while, to grow into new forms of life. “When the clouds roll in the skies even though who are happy tend to become otherworldly in their thoughts and fancies”, said Kalidasa, “Turn wheresoev’r I may,/ by night or day,/ The things which I have seen I now can see no more.” Yet there will be others to see them, to see meadow, grove and stream, the earth and every common sight appareled in celestial light.

Traveller Alberuni provides beautiful descriptions of the monsoons in India. Bernier, the French traveller talks of the moods produced by the monsoons. The evocative power of the rains and the functional uses it can be put to have not escaped even the jingle makers of the Indian films. Shakeel Badayuni trills, Zindagi bhar na bhooleygi wo barasat ki raat/ Ek anjaan haseena se mulaquat ki raat. (“All my life I wiil not forget the maiden I met one rainy night.”)

But it has been left to the great poets to match with truly inspired rhyme and metre the inherent poetry of the rains. Tagore, who grew up in communion with trees, clouds, flowers and rains as well as the placid rivers, expresses thus the longing with which the rains are awaited : “The horizon is fiercely naked/ Not the thinnest cover of cloud/ Not the vaguest hint of distant cool shower/ Let the cloud of grace bend low from above/ Like the tearful look of the mother on the day/ Of father’s wrath”.

Zauq was a poet-laureate in the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar for around two decades. He said about the monsoon downpours:  Abr qudrat hai tujhe is dum laga be tun tun jhari/ Kahte hain janey ke woh dekhen to kyonkar jayen.’ Translated it would be, ‘‘Burst o powerful cloud into a mighty downpour. My love wants to depart. Let’s see how she manages it.’

In sensuous appeal Dagh was like Keats ; his ghazals are saturated with emotional lyricis and in exotic expressions he is at his best : Lipat jatey hain wo bijli ke dar se / Ilahi ye ghata do din to barse.’ “Scared of lightning ,my love clasps me”’, the translation would go, ‘’I pray to god that this torrential rain lasts  for at least two days’’.

Saquib in this couplet makes beautiful , poignant metaphors of the colours contained in the rain drops: Maza barsaat ka chaho to in aankhon mein aa baitho/ Siyahi hai, safedi hai, shafqhai , abr-e-baraan hai’.(If you want to enjoy the bliss of rain, come, sit in these parlous of my eyes. There is whiteness, there is darkness, there are the twin hues of dusk, and there is the flow of rain’’.)

In Hindi poetry, rain and its associated images have been popular themes with almost all the classical poets of the Bhakti age. Here is an example from Tulsidas’s Ramayana: Ghana ghamand nabha garjat ghor/ Priya bintadpat man more/ damini damaki rahi ghan mahin/ Boond aghat sahajin kaise/ Khel ke bachan sant se jaise/ Harit bhumi trin sankulit/ Samujhi parhin nahinpanth/ Jimi pakhand vivad ten lupt sada granth

Tulsidas is difficult to translate for he wrote in dialect, but the roar and tumult of thunder can be heard in the abundant use of the sound gha in the verse above. It presents a combined picture of the ruthlessness of  thunder and its awesome, majestic virility.Here is one rhyme from Firaque , the Gnanpeeth Award winner, on the elusive, teasing habits of the monsoon’s sway: Jo jaan hai mausam ki/Na janey kahan hai aaj/Pani to barista hai /Barsat nahi hoti.’’ Where is the substance of the weather?’’ he asks, ‘’It drips . Where is the shower?’’

It was the showers and the suggestive breeze that most stirred the poet’s fancy : Mono more megher sangee oorey chale   and sent him into joyous ecstasy: Hridoyamar nachere ajike mayurer moto nachire. Love and the rains are woven into a delicate pattern in a number of Tagore’s songs: Esho neepabane Chaya bithi tale, karo snan nabadhara jale’. The lover is at the doorstep of his beloved on a rainy evening with a gift of a flower in one of Tagore’s touching love song Barshana mandrito andhakare.Nature like woman can be whimsical . We continue to scan the skies, see hope and renewal in the clouds , and dance with joy and offer a silent prayer that we may live to see the next season. For we cannot forget that ‘our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting’. Only nature remains eternal; only the cloud has a message for mankind.

The writer is Associate Professor, Dept 9of English, Gurudas College,
Kolkata