Abraham Tharakan’s family has been recording rainfall since the late 1950s. He talks about his family’s unique engagement and its relevance in these times. Shilpa Nair Anand learns about the family’s unique engagement and its relevance in these times.

Rain is on everyone’s mind this year, every millimetre and inch of rain is a conversation piece. But a family in Muvattupuzha is ‘into’ rainfall and has been recording it for close to 50 years.

There is a story to how Abraham Tharakan’s family got interested in rains, specifically in measuring rainfall. His grandfather, his namesake, a native of Thaikattussery, moved from the traditional coconut and paddy cultivation into plantation agriculture. He bought land in Kothamangalam in the late 1920s or early 30s for this purpose.

“My father, also Abraham Tharakan, had the green thumb. He started cardamom, coffee and rubber plantations. And then in the 1950s he heard about coffee plantations in Coorg,” Abraham Tharakan reminisces. A huge photograph of his late father dominates the drawing room in the house in Muvattupuzha. A smaller oil painting of his grandfather rests on a corner table.

Abraham Tharakan’s family has been recording rainfall since the late 1950s. It started out as a planter’s necessity in Coorg, which it still is, Tharakan says. He shows records of the rains in Muvattapuzha from 1988. If you are wondering how much rainfall Muvattupuzha received in July 1989, all you need to do is refer to his meticulously well-kept records. It rained 150 days in 2002 as compared to the 124 days in 2001; in 2010 Muvattupuzha got 4. 25 inches of rain in one-and-a-half hours and the same year it got 7.75 inches over a 24 hour period. “I had records of rain in Kothamangalam from the 1970s too. Some of those were lost when we shifted here.”

Dedicated notebooks

The ‘records’ are maintained in notebooks dedicated to recording rainfall. Some of the books are informal notebooks. But the records since 2000 are in a specific notebook, which he bought from Coorg. “When Kodavas buy property, one of the first records they ask for, even before the land deed, is the rain chart. Their conversations start with ‘how much did you get?’”

The record-keeping started with his father, during his days in Coorg. He remembers seeing his first rain gauge as a 10-year-old. “There was hardly any irrigation there and planters solely depended on rain. Coffee is a one time crop and untimely rain can damage the crop. The idea behind monitoring weather conditions was to help agricultural operations,” he says. When his father returned to Thaikattusserry (Alappuzha) he installed a rain gauge there. Father and son would exchange notes on the rainfall received, something which he does today with his sons, Ebbey and Bobby. The coastal belt gets less rainfall as compared to the high ranges, he says. “If Muvattupuzha gets an average of 110 inches of rain then Kochi would get an average of 90 inches of rainfall,” says this engineer-turned planter.

As we chat, his son informs him that Kothamangalam has already recorded 13 inches of rainfall till July 8. When Tharakan talks about the rain it becomes clear how little we know about it. “There is a difference between getting four inches of rain and three-and-a-half inches.” An agriculturist needs to know the pattern of rainfall received. He shows the rainfall patterns of 2010 and 2011, during the monsoon, and the chart for 2012. The charts show a clear deficit of rainfall during the June-July period.

“If someone had been monitoring rainfall then the power shortage could have been anticipated and corrective measures could have been taken before it was too late.” He is not only talking from a planter’s point of view.

He is against the attitude of taking rain for granted, “you cannot sit back thinking it will rain because it rained the year before. There is all this talk about the water table and rain water harvesting…but how much do we know about rain?”

He even records the number of days it rains each year. Ebbey and Bobby measure the rainfall and make the records.

“My sons go on the Net for accurate weather forecasts. If it rains more in November rubber tapping is affected. This way we know what the weather is going to be; so we can be prepared. The Indian Meteorological Department is very accurate and so are the satellite pictures in The Hindu. The various websites are extremely helpful. Information is more detailed; it is very different from what it was in my time.”

He has not missed a single day of recording rainfall. Outings are planned in such a way that they don’t hamper the recording, his wife says. There is always somebody around to monitor rainfall.

Another cause

Abraham Tharakan is a member of the All Kerala Parents' Association of the Deaf. The cause of the deaf is close to his heart as both his sons are hearing impaired. He counsels parents of similar children. He moved to Kerala from Mysore in 1976. He was at the All India Institute of the Hearing Impaired aiding them in their treatment. Both his sons look after the estates; they are perfect examples of assimilation. Ebbey and Bobby even have driving licenses.

How it works

The rain gauge is a cylindrical metal pipe with a funnel inside with a container placed under it to collect rainwater which is then measured.

The gauge is not high-tech. The rainwater once collected in the gauge is then measured using a cylindrical measuring glass used specifically to record rain.

The previous day's rain is measured every morning at 7 a.m.

Of the rain gauges he uses, one is ‘made in Coorg’. He has installed two in his garden, but he finds the ‘Coorg’ one more reliable.

He bought one from Kochi but he is not sure about its accuracy because there is a variation in the sizes, which, he believes, might hamper accuracy.