The air at Shanghumugham beach in Thiruvananthapuram is heavy with anticipation. All eyes are on the horizon to celebrate the arrival of monsoon on Kerala’s shores. Clouds, grey with the promise of rain, are enveloping the clear blue sky. Sullen waves push against the beach as a grey and blue sea restlessly awaits the showers. There is a nip in the air and a tangy taste as the sprays rise higher and higher.
Far away, a cargo ship ambles by, its progress along the horizon too, seemingly, in tandem with the pace of the wind, the sea and the clouds.
At the less populated end of the beach, close to the thatched-roof huts of the fisher folk, a few fishermen, who’ve brought in the day’s catch, in all likelihood their last from this stretch of the sea for the foreseeable future, scramble to pull in their nets before high tide reclaims the beach. Nearby, half hidden under a tent of tarpaulin tied to two country boats, four brawny men are engaged in a game of cards, their occasional shouts of glee drowned by the sound of the sea. At the other end of the beach, by the heritage Kalmandapam, a game of beach football is on, with Shakira’s FIFA world cup anthem ‘La La La...’ adding to the joie de vivre. Adjacent to the makeshift goals, a sand artist is busy adding final touches to his sculpture of the world cup.
“The monsoon has finally come. The rain clouds give it away yes, but it’s the sea which always gives you the first clues about its arrival,” says Pushpalily, a septuagenarian fisherwoman, who is sitting by the promenade, trying to sell the last of her mackerel and sardines, part of the afternoon’s catch. With a mixture or exhilaration and resignation writ on her wrinkled face, she says, “For several days now, the sea here has been terribly rough, so much so that the men have found it very hard to launch the boats. Also, the wind has turned and is now coming from the west, which you can observe in the angle with which the waves crash on the shore. The rainy season will continue for at least three months,” she adds.
Perhaps that’s why many people, young and old, have made a beeline to the water’s edge. Oblivious to the red flags that flutter furiously as a warning of the gathering storm, they dip their feet in the surf, often running back in alarm when a particularly huge wave lets water rush far in. A few of the (un)lucky ones even get drenched, caught unawares by the strength of the waves. The four lifeguards on the beach let most of the merrymakers enjoy themselves. After all, this will most probably be the last time for several months that there will be a beach as such, what with the water level slated to rise to that of the road. “Once the monsoon sets in fully, the water level can rise overnight. But, judging by the sea’s demeanour today, that scenario is at least a few days away,” says Harishchandra Babu, one of the lifeguards, as he whistles a warning to a bunch of teenagers who’ve wandered in a little too deep for his liking. “As it is this is a treacherous stretch of the sea, not shallow like Kovalam or Varkala, it becomes even more dangerous when it is choppy,” he explains.
The gaiety comes almost to a standstill when it starts to drizzle. Thunder booms, this time much louder than the sound of the crashing waves, sending the merrymakers to the safety of their vehicles. They are now more interested in snacking on hot bajjis, fish fry, omelettes and ice-cream from the many roadside food stalls. Meanwhile, nature’s drama continues. The sun has now been hidden by clouds so grey that it’s difficult to make out where the sea ends and the sky begins. The wind is almost gale like, and even the white-shelled crabs that have emerged from the sand by their hundreds, scurry for the safety of their water-logged domain. The cargo ship has finally disappeared from the horizon and in its wake come fat droplets of rain — the monsoon.
Monsoon is derived from the Arabic word ‘Mawsin’ which means season.
The Southwest monsoon makes landfall first along Kerala’s coast, traditionally around June 1. This year it arrived on June 6.
It is believed that it was the monsoon wind that brought trading vessels of Rome to the ancient port of Muziris (Kodungallor). According to Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (1 century C.E.) and Roman author and naval commander Pliny the Elder, it was Greek navigator Hippalus who discovered the direct route from the Red Sea to India over the Indian Ocean by following the direction of the monsoon winds.