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The rain tales

As a child, I loved the rain: and still do! When the first drops fall and the intense heat of summer subsides, there is welcome relief — and the smell of newly wet earth, petrichor, is exhilarating. This happens every year. But why should it happen on the first of June, give or take a few days, in Kerala? The same day as the schools reopen — everyone is upset when the child sent out from home well booted and dressed, gets back wet, disheveled and dirty! My parents insisted I carry a large umbrella. And I would try my best to get at least a little drenched, dashing and sprinting, doing a whirligig in the drizzle if the mood suited me. I would hang the parapluie (Fr: against the rain) over my shoulder if the weather was dry, or twirl it around to watch the rain drops scurrying off in different directions, sparkling like diamonds. It could be used as a shield if naughty drivers of cars, buses or scooters splashed dirty water from potholes on unsuspecting pedestrians — sometimes with sadistic pleasure, many a time inadvertently. There was camaraderie too — sharing a parasol with a friend, getting wet together. Warnings from elders not to catch a cold or fever were gleefully ignored.

So this year, when the monsoon lost its fury and the heat started being felt again, we started worrying about the coming summer, its heat, problems with water and electricity. The rain gods, however, seemed to decide otherwise, and we saw the heavens open up again, coming down with an intensity we have never witnessed after 1924 — lands inundated, trees crashing down, landslips cutting approach roads, families marooned or washed away. The massive devastation we witnessed on television and the mobile phone screen made us shudder.

A common expression used is ‘to rain cats and dogs’. But why only such small animals? Why not ‘elephants and giraffes’, to express the magnitude? The cat, in Greek mythology, is said to have great influence on the weather. The dog was a signal of the wind. They were both attendants of Odin, the storm god.

In old German pictures, wind was depicted as the head of a dog or wolf. When we say ‘it is raining cats and dogs’, the cat is the symbol of pouring rain and the dog of the strong gusts that accompany a rainstorm. In Germanic mythology, Odin is a revered god, associated with wisdom, healing, knowledge — also magic, rage, death, battle and the gallows. His animal companions bring him information, which he verifies by getting to places in disguise. Mankind’s knowledge of the letters of the alphabet and poetry are attributed to Odin. He has also given his name to Wednesday (from ‘Wōdenesdaeg’, the day of Odin). Odin is also equated with the Roman god Mercury.

According to Greek mythology, the god of rain and thunder is Zeus, the king of gods, the first lord of the Greek pantheon, who rules from Mount Olympus. He is the ‘father of the gods and men’. His symbol includes a lightning dart. Zeus and his brothers drew lots to share the world between them. Zeus got the sky, Poseidon the sea and Hades the underworld. Zeus’ portfolios included law and order, destiny and fate. It made sense that as most of Greece is hot and dry during the long Mediterranean summer, the numero uno among the Greek gods should himself take control of the clouds, thunder and lightning, rain being such a precious and powerful commodity.

In Hindu mythology, Varuna (Baruna in Malay) is associated with the sky and the waters, also with justice and truth. He is mentioned in the Rig Veda, in ancient Tamil and in Buddhist and Jain literature. Interestingly, there is a sweet prayer that has gone viral from the Soma Yaga, which points out to Varuna very politely that since we have had too much rain on land, would he please divert this energy and cause the rain to fall on the sea or in the forest? Did the recent rain stop after this was chanted, I wonder!

Each country has its own ‘rain deity’ — this is hardly surprising because every human’s outlook is influenced by the weather. Depression and suicides are common in winter in the West. In Britain one can hold polite conversation for hours on the weather, the lack of rain or otherwise, without giving offence!

The Rain God is a 1984 novel byArturo Islas, selected for the best fiction prize the following year, the story of a Mexican family coping with disabilities and handicaps; The Rain Man is an Oscar-winning 1988 movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise.

The Rain Tree (Saman) is parasol-shaped tree with pink flowers, originally native to Mexico and Central America and a national treasure in Venezuela, belonging to the pea family. Its leaves fold in the rain and in the evenings (hence its name, ‘five o’clock tree’). There is a well-known specimen on the banks of the Brahmaputra in Guwahati. In Thailand it is called the ‘Yak’ (from yaksha, a mythical demon).

In Kerala, the month of Karkitakamhasnature at its worst, traditionally associated with ill-health and deprivation. There are many who have their annual ‘maintenance’ Ayurvedic sukha chikitsa meticulously every year during this month. Considering the havoc caused by the monsoon this year, it is sensible advice ‘to lay aside something for a rainy day’, that is, save something for sparse times.

As the dreary weather lifts and the fog recedes, especially in the hilly areas, a rainbow magically appears. In all cultures the rainbow is associated with hope and happiness. Children get excited spotting one and parents try to explain to them the physics and optics of the phenomenon, given a chance.

There is of course the old fable that if you can spot the end of the rainbow and dig, you will get a pot of gold. Visionaries, wool-gatherers and day-dreamers are often called ‘rainbow-chasers’, partly in derision, because they hope for impossible things.

krishnanramanmenon@gmail.com

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 12:42:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-rain-tales/article24780824.ece

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