Recently a friend of mine wrote a wonderful article on monsoon for me. It was beautiful, heartfelt, and I could almost smell the wet earth from his words. His writing brought back beautiful childhood monsoon memories for me; memories of fluffy kadamba flowers, the quaint and artistic festivals of Jhulan and Rath Yatra, of piping hot papadums, catching tadpoles, playing in the mud, and setting off paper boats. The last was my favourite and I loved to see my math copybook paper floating down a stream, its arithmetic ink melting away by the minute. Monsoon brings hoards of such memories —– of raincoats, rainboots, wet school uniforms, plomp plomp dropping on ripe taal fruits, flickering hurricane lamps, and fancy umbrellas as teenagers. I can go on and on, but let me introduce you to the wonderful article that my friend Debanjan has shared with me.

Powercuts and dark stormy nights

I was raised in a West Bengal suburban town, where one can actually find the real beauty of the monsoon. Heavy rainfall since early morning used to start our days and those were the times of lolling around, having fun. Low indoor light accompanied by long power cuts helped get rid of home tasks and today when I look back, I wonder how mischievous we were. Despite such adverse reading conditions, we never failed to finish our hoard of ghosts, horror, and crime stories. Those were rainy days and stormy nights specialties when the flickering candlelight added that extra thrill. Food was another seasonal highlight and the monsoon brought out some of my favourite dishes to the table.

The quintessential monsoon khichuri

In nearly every Bengali household, the monsoon is celebrated with a very popular Khichuri. It is a very popular seasonal dish in Asia and has many variations. The globetrotter, Ibn Battuta, in around 1350, mentions “kishri” as an Indian dish that is composed of rice and mung beans. Ask any Bengali about Khichuri, he will wax poetic about Khichuri made with “Gobindobhog” rice & “moog dal”. On a rainy day, Khichuri has to be accompanied with Hilsa fry, omelette, and a crunchy battered eggplant fry called “Beguni”.

A season of five months

Monsoon is the most prominent season of Bengal. It starts in June and lasts almost till half of October. West Bengal accommodates nine crore Indians and this vast number of people are almost entirely dependent on agriculture and fishing. These two professions are fully dependent on the monsoon. And so to get the essence of the actual Bengali monsoon, you have to explore rural Bengal.

The poet’s muse

There is something poetic about monsoon: the dark, brooding skies, the heavy windless atmosphere that is pregnant with moisture, the violet flashes of lightning, the rumbling thunder, the curtain-like incessant rain, the swollen river bodies, and the people of the land taking them all in their stride. Monsoon has inspired artistic minds throughout centuries and they have endowed this season with love, lust, and sensual feelings. The great poet Kalidasa was imaginative enough to fantasize the rivers as sensuous women. In his famous poem, “Cloud Messenger”, Kalidasa has requested his messenger, the cloud to take interest in the rivers that lie along the way on his journey from the Gangetic plains to the Himalayan range.

Like the slender arms of the lady river,
Vanira branches reach out to take away her
water garment and expose her thighs, the banks.
O friend, of course it would take long for you to depart,
for who has the strength to leave a woman
after relishing her bare thighs?

Delicate jarul flower

The monsoon flowers

Vibrant monsoon flowers like kadamba, lotus, waterlily, jarul, nagchampa, kamini, and keya also add to the beauty of the monsoon. Nature seems to flourish in glorious colours and creations and these often find their way in beautiful lines of inspired poets. The list of monsoon-infatuated poets starts with stalwarts like Rabindranath Tagore, Nazrul Islam, Dwijendralal Roy and continues past the era of Sunil Gangopadhyay. It can be said confidently – “if you have not seen the monsoon in rural Bengal, you have not explored India at all”.

The monsoon flower, nagchampa

A monsoon night at my hometown

I am in my hometown, the place where I grew up, and at the moment, finding it difficult to concentrate on this monsoon post. A rainy evening is distracting me. The incessant soft murmur of the rain seems like whispers in the night. My ears prick up at the sound of raindrops falling on tin roofs. Frogs croak, and somewhere a lonely dog barks. I know that when this rain will cease, fireflies will descend upon this quiet place. They will light up the velvetty wet night with their phosphorescent twinkles until flashes of lightning will scatter them like flowers. It will be time for rain again.

A rain-washed waterlily

The fragrant kamini flowers, blooms of monsoon

Children make most of their glorious memories during the monsoon.

Oh. The joy of playing football on a muddy field.

Monsoon means the beginning of rice plantation.

The jute plantation also begins.

Jute fibre is used in manufacturing textile, packing, rope, paper, bags, garments, etc.

Jute being transported to jute mills in far-off places.

After selling jute, farmers dry the stalks. Jute stalks are used as the source of fire and to produce boards, charcoal.

Since all water bodies are filled with water, fishermen earn the most during a good monsoon.

Fishing activities start in the early morning.

The skill of throwing the net while standing on a boat and without any support is very special.

Monsoon in rural Bengal is perfect for someone ‘who has been long in city pent’. Come and experience it.

Author Bio –

This wonderful post with all the images is courtesy of Debanjan Bagchi, an avid traveler, and photographer from Kolkata, India. I am lucky to call him my friend and he is always seeking something interesting in places, people, and history. When not taking beautiful photographs or traveling, Debanjan is soaking up history like a sponge. To enjoy more of his beautiful photographs check out his Bengali blog and his facebook page.