Letter from Asia: India’s monsoon is one of the greatest givers — and takers — of life

It sweeps villages away, but also provides more than 70 per cent of the country's rain


The monsoon reached our bit of Delhi at 2.16pm last Thursday.

There had been some thunder, some flashes in the dark sky, and then they came – big, fat, gleeful raindrops that rapidly turned into a torrent. I jotted down the time and went up on to the roof to take a look.

After seven years living in India, the monsoon rains still thrill.

Firstly there is the sheer physicality of it - the sounds, the sights, the smells - as water hits dust and hot buildings hiss. I like watching the way the water courses down gutters, overpowering drains and running amok.

Then, when the downpour has passed, there are the few moments of peace and quiet. For a few seconds even the birds are still. The air is clear, the heavens blue, the trees and plants drip.

It comes with the knowledge of just how vital the rain is. Across South Asia, countless thousands of people die in the floods caused by the annual monsoon, as rivers break their banks and villages are swept away.

Yet the rains are also a vital sustainer. It is estimated that India receives more than 70 per cent of its total rain during the monsoon months, water that is vital for its 235m farmers and for replenishing aquifers. More than 50 per cent of the country’s agriculture relies on rain-fed irrigation.

This year, the monsoon was all the more welcome because it had been several days late in arriving. For weeks, the estimate of the arrival of the rains, which start in Kerala and work their way up the sub-continent, had been pushed back and back. Usually, they’re here in late June.

Even now there are worries about the amount of rain that has come. Sivanand Pai, head of the India Meteorological Department’s long-term forecasting division, told me from Pune, that as of now, there was a 40 per cent deficiency in the amount of rainfall they would consider a “full” monsoon.

This was the worst showing since 2009, he said, and yet he was optimistic that things could come around. “We never get less than 70 per cent, so there should be more rain to come.”

In a country such as India it’s hard to over emphasise the importance of the rains. Every year, both English language and vernacular newspapers give the estimates and predictions of Mr Pai and his colleagues front-page billing.

Even today around 70 per cent of Indians live in rural areas where agriculture is the main source of income. And while agriculture may account for little more than 20 per cent of the country’s GDP, as the World Bank said, its importance in the country’s “economic, social, and political fabric goes well beyond this indicator”.

While India’s growth rate is rumbling on at less than five per cent, inflation stands at around 8.25 per cent. By itself food inflation is a little higher and uncertainty in the Middle East and the resulting rise in oil prices is likely to see it go upwards yet. There’s also been evidence that middlemen have been hoarding supplies of essentials such as onions and tomatoes.

This explains why the progress of monsoon is watched to carefully. A poor monsoon, or even the prediction of poor monsoon, can see the financial markets tumble. They know how crucial it is to the nation and its well-being.

Last week, then, I was more than happy to stand out in the rain last week, drenched in the downpour, delighting in the simple pleasures of nature.

Another reason to enjoy it was that the aftermath of the showers is utterly miserable. A day after all that water, the sun was back and things were horribly humid. It’s essential, therefore, to enjoy the rain when it arrives.

Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
Rumours of sexual misconduct can no longer be brushed beneath the carpet
Is Ian Thorpe gay? Does anyone care?

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions