What the monsoon tells us about love, hope, peace, sharing and celebration

Rainy days are known to contribute to depression and sadness. People become nostalgic and melancholic, remembering lost loves, remembering first loves. But I see in rain the magic that is life; I see freedom from the scorching heat and that angst within; I see healing and wisdom. It is a manna, a windfall, a boon, a godsend. So as much as I find myself loathing the monsoon season, I have also come to understand that it is essential. It is something we must all make our peace with and show gratitude for.

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I learned as a young boy that “monsoon” isn’t just a word – it is also a metaphor for prayer, love, hope, celebration, peace, sharing, happiness, caring and deeply-felt adventure that transcends the rainy season and connects one to a most gutturally enjoyed emotion and time. Yes, it causes anxiety by keeping us stuck inside our homes and rooms, but it also frees us of much that clutters our souls.

My training as a Hindustani classical vocalist familiarised me, at a very young age, with the romance that Indian poetry has with the monsoon. I learned ragas that celebrate the season, whose notes touch one’s heartstrings and take both vocal chords and the instruments to places where they eclipse music becoming part of the longing and joy, the anxious hankerings and desolate nervousness, the hopeful mind and the lover waiting to be one with the beloved. In the poetry that the notes give voice to, in the emotional tension the poets bring forth, and in the vocal gymnastics of the singer, ragas unite musician with self, and the self with the other, and in doing so, bring us back home to that place deep inside our soul where we find ourselves, our whole meaning, our purpose.

Luca, my most beloved pet, my Bernese Mountain Dog, who passed away just over a year ago at age 10 in New Delhi after having spent his first eight years in New York at our farm in Hebron, had a very similar relationship with rain. He would rise above a rainstorm’s gloomy air of despair and bleakness and show will power that would keep him holding his business for upwards of 24 hours, if need be, to keep himself dry and far from the rain. His calm manner, his silent strength, his majestic gait, even as he held liters and liters of water in his bladder, were a lesson in how we humans become wimps so easily. This four-legged giant of a dog taught me a human, to find life in stillness and to see positive action in restfulness.

Luca was therapist and shrink, philosopher guide, and a gentle companion, showing me through his example that facing challenges doesn’t have to be a negative, and that in the churn of seasons and the gushing monsoon rain, there are lessons of harmonious living.

Yes, I am human, and I play favourites, even when trying not to. I love living where the seasons are defined with bold clarity. I found joy living on our farm in Hebron, in what many consider the tundra in the US. Frozen for six interminable months of the year, it was our home for a long time, longer than I have lived anywhere else. I enjoyed the fleeting spring, which vanished even before it arrived. Summer was verdant and bursting with life, with birds in song and animals lost to the woods, with grass growing faster than anything else, as if it were ensuring its life was noticed and indulged. Not as fleeting as spring, summer came with scorching heat, in a geography unprepared to deal with it. Fall came with a colour palette no painting could do justice to. Leaves on the ground as beautiful as the colourful ones atop trees. These are seasons of busyness, of activity and manic scrambles to produce, to succeed, to accomplish. There is no time for contemplation or reflection, and no energy reserved at the end of the day for either.

When winter arrived, I saw in the North Country that same darkness that the monsoons bring with them to the Indian landscape. But with Luca and ancient ragas as my guides, I fell in love with the solitude and calm, the dreary weather and the cheerlessness, the murky thoughts, and the introspective energy. Unable to drive sometimes and locked in our rural outpost with no neighbours in sight, it was with ourselves and our reality that we had to make peace, so we could live with hope and without fear. Just as in the music of the ragas, where the words take on a cheerful note and tone as the lover comes home in time before the morbidity of the monsoon leaves the poet in despair, so, too, I was able to see the bright light that was the flame inside the depths of my being which the snow kept alive. When kept lit, its embers are the emotions that we learn to leave behind, the joys we see in our future when we least expect them, and the peace of mind that we find despite being broken by the weather outside. Luca’s eyes looking calmly into mine and his ability to preserve the gentleness of his manner and soul taught me much about making peace with nature, to see tranquility in the darkest of dark moments, to see quietude without fear and for its healing abilities.

I remember Dadi, my paternal grandmother, once traced the journey of the river Ganga from its Himalayan origin to its arrival in the plains. She wrote its autobiography on banyan tree leaves with ink. She waxed poetic about the journey of this holiest of holy rivers. The story of the river wasn’t about Hindu ritual, but through her words and prose, it was the story of water, of sustenance, of growth, of movement, of hope, of survival, of new beginnings, of meandering paths, of human evolution, of our lot in life, and of continuity and the utterly easy simplicity of the very vexing human continuum.

In the gloaming umbra of the murky dark dark clouds, I wait to see life and hope, and find it when thunder rolls and lightning strikes. And just like that I see the proverbial silver lining in the blackest of clouds, and I also see how that passing and fleeting shimmer turns into lasting change in the landscape and vegetation and in lives everywhere the monsoon water touches the earth. Its fruit will be enjoyed in faraway places where that water finds its way. The anxiety for the beloved, the mourning of love, the sorrows that clouded the joys, all will find hope in our hearts — we just have to let the water settle, our emotions be grounded, and give life time to live.

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