The Monsoon Is  Proof Of Life, Not A Wrecker Of Human Life
Rain droplets glisten on rice growing in a field in Uttar Pradesh. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

The Monsoon Is Proof Of Life, Not A Wrecker Of Human Life

BloombergQuintOpinion

Horns were blaring on Delhi’s streets, because it had just stopped raining. A pall that looked like mountain mist, but was actually smoke, lay over the red light that had just started working. Rains in the city come with a pre-empted feeling – traffic signals will stop working, roads will flood, cars will break down because roads have flooded, and other cars will go more slowly because of one broken-down car.

Traffic congestion due to water-logging following heavy monsoon rain at ITO in New Delhi, on July 21, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)
Traffic congestion due to water-logging following heavy monsoon rain at ITO in New Delhi, on July 21, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)

The blessing of rain feels like an expletive in no time. I was driving, stuck and exhausted—a feeling also of weariness for the traffic I would no-doubt encounter for the rest of the journey—when a butterfly fluttered past my windshield. It was a Mottled emigrant, a large, mint-green butterfly, and it paused in the unlikeliest of places—on the corner of a beam of a metro train pillar.

For a second or two, our worlds collided – the urban with the wild, the car borne with the air-borne, the coming together of something delicate with reinforced concrete.
An emigrant butterfly. (Photograph: Neha Sinha)
An emigrant butterfly. (Photograph: Neha Sinha)

The butterfly in itself was not surprising, I should just have been willing to feel surprised. Post-rain is the time to see butterflies—and take in many other lessons from nature.

Nature Reclaims Itself

‘Rainfall’ equals ‘flooding’ in most Indian cities. Our streets can’t even take what one would call low-intensity rainfall.

Traffic moves on a street during rains as dark clouds hover over New Delhi. (Photograph: PTI)
Traffic moves on a street during rains as dark clouds hover over New Delhi. (Photograph: PTI)

This is because while we respect systems made by man—traffic flow, interest rates, voting, the stock market—we look down on systems created by nature. Or, we seek to modify or destroy these systems, as one form of control. One of the most basic natural systems has do with a couple of molecules of hydrogen and oxygen—water, flowing down our lives and drains, in the rains. Nature creates its own drainage patterns. Streams, brooks and channels form in the monsoon, taking advantage of natural undulations of topographies.

These streams drain into a river, or a wetland that receive the brooks. This is an effective system that carries water efficiently, granting life and creating long riparian bursts of habitat.

Wild turmeric growing in the rains. (Photograph: Neha Sinha
Wild turmeric growing in the rains. (Photograph: Neha Sinha

In the Himalayas, freshwater streams are major sources of drinking water. That is, till we construct roads, buildings with swathes of concrete that disrupt these channels.

Roads are built as impermeable strips of concrete. Road dividers are built as raised strips of concrete. Drainage channels on the side of the road are built over for footpaths or cyclist tracks. So, ten minutes of rain can turn a road into a torrential river with nowhere to go.

A heavy stream of water gushes down a street following incessant rainfall, causing a landslide, at Chiplun in Ratnagiri, on July 16, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)
A heavy stream of water gushes down a street following incessant rainfall, causing a landslide, at Chiplun in Ratnagiri, on July 16, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)

Mumbai celebrates its “spirit” every year, but it seems like that is the only thing to do when the state of the city’s drainage hasn’t changed in decades, and each monsoon brings local floods.

In order to build cities, the first order of the day is to respect natural drainage, and allow water to flow.
People make their way through a flooded road in Mumbai, on Aug. 4, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)
People make their way through a flooded road in Mumbai, on Aug. 4, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)

We allow our national airlines and our banks to perform badly but don’t want nature’s banks to do much. We are angry and annoyed when a blocked river overflows its banks, or water gets into our houses. Water needs flow; flow needs drainage; drainage needs gradient, and respect for natural gradient and wetlands is integral to town planning. Reinforcing this would mean building rainwater harvesting structures, drainage on the side of roads, and unblocking channels and river beds.

The flooded banks of the  Ganga,  in Prayagraj (Allahabad), on Sept. 19, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)
The flooded banks of the Ganga, in Prayagraj (Allahabad), on Sept. 19, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)

This year, even the arid state of Rajasthan experienced an abundance of rain. As rains become more unpredictable and harsher, planning with respect for natural systems is the only way ahead. It is also a good idea to plan roads, buildings and infrastructure keeping the monsoon in mind—even if it’s just a few weeks or months of the year—rather than planning for dry months, even if they are a longer portion of the year.

Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla rides on a tractor as he visits the flood-affected areas in Kota, Rajasthan, on Aug. 16, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)
Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla rides on a tractor as he visits the flood-affected areas in Kota, Rajasthan, on Aug. 16, 2019. (Photograph: PTI)

Also read: India’s Monsoon Turnaround Revives Crop Sowing

Life Everywhere

One thing the post-monsoon season teaches us is that life carries on—and in the story of life, the rainy season is an exclamation mark. This is the time that trees like Neem, that will eventually grow to enormous sizes, will emerge from the ground as tiny, teacup saplings. This is the time that frogs call and earthworms squirm out of the earth, and there is a cloud of butterflies everywhere, if you look closely enough.

Butterflies are known to take minerals from wet soil.
After the rains, Glassy Pierrot and Rajah butterflies take nutrients from the wet soil. (Photograph: Neha Sinha)
After the rains, Glassy Pierrot and Rajah butterflies take nutrients from the wet soil. (Photograph: Neha Sinha)

A great time to see butterflies is after the rains, not just sipping nectar from flowers but also mud-puddling and taking nutrients from the soil. Forest areas are alive with swarms of butterflies. Urban parks are full of them as well.

This is the time of the year that there will be a moth at your window at night, winged ants on your bulbs at twilight and a butterfly on the rose on your verandah in the day.
Mormon Butterflies mud puddling. (Photograph: Neha Sinha)
Mormon Butterflies mud puddling. (Photograph: Neha Sinha)

Also read: Rain Saves India’s Soybean, Peanut Crops From Disaster

Don’t Miss The Detail

The monsoon also teaches us to look closely at everything that’s around us. It’s not just the devil that’s in the details; so is wonder, awe and joy. Very small ecosystems spring up after the rains. A slick, wet surface may get covered in moss. Highly sensitive to air pollution, moss will grow in cities in Delhi and Mumbai after the rains.

If you look closely at the velvety, emerald texture, you will find fruiting bodies with their heads up.

A fallen log of wood becomes a kaleidoscope of life. A mushroom peeks its button head from one corner, a frond of ferns curls out from the other. Deadwood will become mulch, its death the bedrock for another life – a small sapling which may, one day, become a giant tree.

Ferns and mosses spring up around a dead log of wood. (Photograph: Neha Sinha)
Ferns and mosses spring up around a dead log of wood. (Photograph: Neha Sinha)

At night, tiny bio-luminescent fungi glow like jewels from the side of trees. Fireflies wink from grasses. The smell of wet earth floods the air. This is a time to pay attention to the details, and take this mindfulness to the rest of the year. Paying attention to intricate details is one way of being present in the moment, and of living life at a rhythm that allows having a vision.

A practice of reflection, and sometimes, of feeling starstruck.
A firefly crawls on a the head of a wheat stalk in a field. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)
A firefly crawls on a the head of a wheat stalk in a field. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

Scientists have found that awe is good for health. Awe is a sense of self-diminishment and humility, while feeling moved by something. If we can feel awe in a season that is verdant and green but also prone to sickness and infection, in a setting where most urban planning conspires to ruin the beauty of falling water, then I think that is one for life and zero for gloom.

Neha Sinha works with the Bombay Natural History Society. Views expressed are personal.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.

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