There are ways to escape the harsh realities of the mundane present. One of them is to curl up with a book whose stories transport you to other times, other climes. So even if the weather is muggy beyond endurance and the monsoon officially over, leaving Delhiites little hope of respite from the heat till autumn sets in, here is a book you might like to leaf through for a monsoon getaway in the imagination. “When Peacocks Dance: Writings on the Monsoon” (Penguin Books), edited by Juhi Sinha, is an anthology that includes all the flavours of the season, as the editor points out. Excerpts from works of Khushwant Singh and Rabindranath Tagore, besides translations from Indian languages including Sanskrit take the reader through various moods of the monsoon from the ancient to the contemporary.
The collection is divided into sections named South, West, North and East, since, says Juhi — known for her film on Bismillah Khan among others as well as book on the late shehnai maestro, besides her children’s books — “the book needed to be representative.” In some cases she wasn’t fully satisfied with the translations that made it to the collection, but felt including them was vital. The monsoon, she notes, is “one of the most significant events of the calendar. Governments fall because of it,” and is a major annual phenomenon that affects the entire country, so it was “important that no region should feel left out.”
ard as it may be to see the romantic side of the monsoon when wading through water from an overflowing drain or stuck in a mammoth traffic jam, these are after all, she feels, “modern-day maladies connected with the handling of the rain.” The monsoon, she maintains, is a season of romance. Music forms like Kajri, great literature like Kalidasa’s “Meghadootam”, recipes for fragrant rainy season foods all remind us of a culture that has developed around the most awaited season of the year, one that sets the agricultural calendar and therefore the periods of hope, leisure and merrymaking too. The editor says she didn’t include too many of the “horror stories” in which the problems caused mostly by bad planning and municipal laxity lead to urban distress during the monsoon.
The romance of the monsoon is something we need to hold on to, she emphasises, although “increasingly the pace of life and the stresses of life are trying to overpower it.”
She still has a lot of material that she hopes will go into a revised edition in the future. For example, she points out, the legend of Krishna’s birth can’t be separated from the monsoon, and neither can the story of Krishna’s lifting of the Goverdhan hill to save the villagers from Indra’s lashing storms. “These are all things I think need to go into it.”
She had even decided on some film songs by poets such as Sahir Ludhianvi and Gulzar, but finally these were not included. Perhaps this was best, she reasons, since the influence of films is everywhere, from ringtones to news channels!
“Our kids would need to know more about ‘Meghadootam’ than about film songs,” she says, adding that perhaps in the next edition she will be able to include musical legends such as how Tansen made the rain come by singing Malhar raga.
One good thing about this collection, feels the editor, is that it offers the opportunity to be picked up and read “randomly”. You don’t have to read it at a stretch, she laughs, “to find out who killed whom”.