The rain sets the mood for Kochi artistes’ creativity and opens myriad possibilities for their work
I wonder what the first rain on Earth felt like. When the skies parted and the waters fell forth, the leaves must have shivered as the first drops fell; the soil must have softened as the rains seeped through. When the world was first hushed into silence, but for the water’s gushing, did it know that millennia later, the rains would reach into our collective conscious? We mark time by its coming and going; and our language makes metaphors of its many moods. As the land where the monsoon first meets India, here’s a look at how Kerala’s artistes have often made the season their muse.
“My strongest memory of the monsoon was as a child travelling by car to Chennai,” says Kuchipudi dancer Anupama Mohan. Brought up in Andhra’s Nellore, she had either seen it barely drizzle or blow down in cyclones, but on the road to Chennai a storm of massive proportions, uprooting trees and disrupting traffic, took place. “I remember being frightened, but excited by the adventure.” Her choreography has often reflected these emotions through different representations of the rain. “Many of my pieces have incorporated the rain. From the thrill and chill of the first rain that paints a romantic mood, to the strength of heavy wind and thunder, each form can be depicted by the rhythm of our feet, the expressions of our body language,” she says. At Anupama’s every stay in Kochi, she’s chosen rooms that always face the sea, just to watch the monsoon break over the city. “There’s a pleasantness to the rain that aids my creativity,” she says.
“I work best when it is wet, grey weather,” says author Anita Nair unabashedly. “I can’t stand the heat and sun. I’m the kind of person that takes off for a walk with an umbrella when it rains.” Where the Rain is Born, an anthology of writings on Kerala that Anita edited, framed the State with its monsoon, for Kerala’s rains are Anita’s greatest association with it. She recalls summers almost 40 years ago where she’d leave the intense heat of Madras to wake up to Shoranur’s showers.
In both her books set in Kerala, Mistress and Better Man, Anita writes evocatively of the rain, using it to aid narrative: “In the first, it often rains around the chief couple, insulating them within, cut away from the rest of the world, as a romance enhancer. In the second, the rain is a metaphor for just another irritant to the main character, who returns to his village for good on the very day that it pours. The emotions that the rain evokes in me are those that I extend to my writing too.”
For Hindustani classical singer Ramesh Narayan, the rain has always meant sheer happiness. “My mind's creativity in composition increases when it rains. I sit by my open window and just sing,” he says. As a student in Pune, Ramesh remembers practising malhar ragas with his guru , as it rained in the fauji mandir they frequented. “Just as in Kerala we see various kinds of rain, Hindustani classical music represents each kind with almost 50 different malhar ragas. It is in Pune that I learnt to sing the gaud malhar and the dhuliya malhar that invokes the dust, wind and power of the rain.” One of his cherished performances of the malhar ragas was at a concert in Abu Dhabi where he sang the miyan malhar. “I told the audience that in this place without rain, I was only singing for their heart’s content, but it did rain that day!”
Capturing the spirit of the rain has been photographer Joshy Manjummel’s pet project every year. His shot of a man hidden by an umbrella, fishing in the rain at Kumbalangi won him the State Government Award in 2006. His dream is to someday shoot Wayanad and Munnar’s strong deluges. “The rain has many faces,” says Joshy, “Its approach and its first gentle fall have a light that make it easy to capture. Once the darkness and cold sets in, my mind loses its mood too.” The images ingrained in him of the monsoon are from his ancestral home, the water dripping off the roof tiles and slipping down the trees. “There are limitations to still photography of the rain; moving images do it more justice.”
Filmmaker Anil Radhakrishnan Menon prayed that it wouldn’t rain on the days that he shot his debut film North 24 Kaatham in June-July 2013, through the heaviest rainfall that India had seen in two decades. Eighty per cent of it was shot outdoors, in the short interludes between downpours, mostly in natural light. “When the film was done, I realised that God gave me the rains for a reason. The film had this magical lighting of just going to rain throughout”— the presence of rain even in its absence.