Mausam Bada Beimaan Hai: Our Weather is the Great Indian Unifier

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Mausam Bada Beimaan Hai: Our Weather is the Great Indian Unifier

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

I

t has been raining for over a week in Lucknow. As someone who has had the contrarian pleasure of spending many a rainy season in Mumbai, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. The rest of the denizens of this Awadhi city, however, beg to differ. Schools shut down the moment playgrounds are flooded – a possibility unlikely in Mumbai, where schools do not have playgrounds to begin with. (And when they do, flooding is usually the least of their concerns.) Of course, Lucknow’s infrastructure is not prepared to deal with rains at this scale. Neither is Mumbai’s, but at least Mumbai’s supposed “spirit” can always be called upon to fill in the gaps.

My mother, meanwhile, has converted this extreme weather into a competitive spectator sport. Every morning, I wake up to long-distance phone conversations with at least 20 minutes’ worth of weather updates, discussing 13 reasons why it is pouring in Lucknow while it is dry as dust in Gwalior. The scrutiny is held in such detail and retrospective accuracy, it could put the entire weather department to shame. Every change of season warrants swapping of detailed notes on such important issues like, why the hell does Mumbai have no winter?

It isn’t just my mother, of course. Weather in India is – literally and metaphorically – killer. It is always worth a conversation. Or seven. And it is always more than just a conversation.

“It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather,” Samuel Johnson had once observed, “they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm.”

In India, a heat wave murdering a dozen people has to compete with foggy January when people die of cold as frequently as they do of terrible driving and poor visibility.

He may well have made that observation about India. Except the part where we are supposed to be telling each other what we already know. Which we don’t. Nor does our weather department. If legend is to be believed, the only way to get an accurate prediction about Indian weather is to watch the news and believe the exact opposite. It also happens to be the only legend with a consistent track record of always turning out to be true, unlike other weather-related myths like marrying frogs for rains, and conducting havans for cleansing the air of pollution, which have – maybe – a 50 per cent success rate.

In India, a heat wave murdering a dozen people has to compete with foggy January when people die of cold as frequently as they do of terrible driving and poor visibility. A drought-like condition is hell, but it still has to beat the fury of rain when it brings cities to a standstill. Like clockwork, a wide buffet of epidemics and diseases follow in the wake of all kinds of weather. A season of dengue is never far from the next round of swine flu scare. A malaria outbreak can always be trusted to be followed by a round of seasonal flu. All through the year, weather is the only thing as consistently murderous as politicians in this country.

Even local newspapers seem to permanently rely on weather gods to supply them with at least one juicy headline a day and a column’s worth of masala, irrespective of the time of the year.

The point is weather in India, even beyond the myths and legends, is about as contentious a topic as our language, cuisine, and politics. Weather for us is not just a conversation starter, it’s where our differences go to die and find a new life. It is the force that decides what we eat and how we live, creating heterogeneous patterns that define our cultural landscape in ways we rarely process or understand. 

Weather is important to us because how else will we spice up our news reports, how else will we pick fights with strangers on a train, how else will we launch into a detailed diatribe in front of a mostly disinterested audience about our government’s corruption and apathy based on the one pothole that never was until the rain came pouring and converted our driveway into a sinkhole? How else will we know what the fabled spirit of Mumbai really is, while we write detailed social media posts on why we should not need it in the first place? How else will we remember how hard it is to survive for the masses in the country, and how they still manage to?

No, weather in India is not a conversation starter. It is a jolt that shakes us out of our convenient stupor and complacence. It is a seasonal reminder – often engraved in blood and pain – of the fact that we live in a strange, insane country that should have collapsed but simply never does. It is a testament to our cruelty and indifference as much as it is a testament to our shared fate, and an instinctive empathy that comes with it.

It is a testament to our resilience as much as it is testament to the fact that we are incorrigible. Pretty much like our weather.

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