Every year without fail, as the summers start to peak Indians across the country (possibly even our not-so-neighbourly nations) await with bated breath for two forecasts; one by
Indian Meteorological Department and the second one by a private company called Skymet Weather Services. Both IMD and Skymet give a projection for the monsoons that will hit the Indian subcontinent from June-September.
Given the fact that the monsoons are immensely important to India both from a resource and economic purview, the projections are much awaited and discussed. A normal-year prediction would result in a collective sigh of relief, a less-than-normal would get all of us jittery. And the one thing that we dread more than even Thanos' finger snap (from the Avengers universe) is that dreaded super-villainous El Nino.
Yet, like an unsavoury and unwelcome relative, we dread the Nino, praying to the lord that he/she/it does not come this year. And while we may not know who, what, where El Nino is, we do surely know that El Nino is pretty bad news for our monsoons. It is a gobbler of our rains, a defiler of our crops, a pillager of our GDP, an enemy of the state. We truly and deeply hate this El Nino and pray to our hundreds and thousands of gods that it would not happen. Not to us, at least.
Sadly, the gods are not kind and don't pay much attention to our entreaties, possibly after Indian women have started wearing western wear; those culturally-blasphemous skirts and jeans. Hence, every few years this El Nino phenomenon results in warming of the Pacific Ocean near the South American continent, as a result, the clouds laden with water instead of moving towards the Indian shore, decide to traverse to Peru and Chile. So it rains big-time in the Americas, while back here our farmers shrivel up watching the horizons for the dark-grey clouds, and now and then sing a few songs. Quite possibly, it would have been a very bad bout of El Nino that might have coerced the great Tansen to pen his famous Megh Malhar Raaga. Probably his high-pitched singing would have created conducive atmospheric compulsions for those clouds to shift base this side and not there. Unfortunately, neither Tansen nor even Emperor Akbar did not think it important to note down the metrics and verse of the raga, and so we missed the only chance we had of defeating droughts. AR Rahman did try his hand at creating one anthem, but while it worked well in the movie, it has not been successful on the ground.
Eyes On The Skies
To say that rains are important to India, would be a severe-severe understatement. Right from the crops to the people living in this country are directly dependent on the monsoon. India gets 70 percent of its annual rainfall during the southwest monsoon from June to September, which irrigates half the country’s farmlands. About 60 percent of the country's total food grain production is from rain-fed areas. The rains are also our primary source for drinking water in many states, filling up catchment areas and lakes that supply water throughout the year. The rains also charge the underground water table, which is also a primary source for water for drinking and irrigation.
It's not only the farmers that are concerned about the rains, but urban denizens like myself are also worried. In Mumbai, through the months preceding the monsoons, the water-levels of the 5 lakes that supply water is an ever-urgent concern. More than the stock indices or BO returns, Mumbaikars would be keenly following the metres of drawable water left, comparing it constantly with what it was last year, the year before, two years ago, five years ago and so on. The Municipal Corporation will also keep the dread alive, by frequently talking about 15 percent cuts, 25 percent cuts, alternative day supply. In case the rains don't come on time, the citizens will indulge in a range of acts, from religious-like submerging the Babulnath Shiv-linga in water to scientific-like sending up planes for cloud-seeding. Keeping a track of the monsoon is almost like second nature for Mumbaikars. And this isn't the story of Mumbai alone, but everywhere else in India.
With the monsoons predicted to be near normal this year, can we relax and focus on the theatrics of election instead?
Not really! You see, the bunch of statistics provided by these agencies is not much of help. Like those psephologists on news channels predicting the outcome of the elections, these weathermen predict the monsoons with a lot of ifs and buts. First, it is the percentage of the LPA or long period average. Apparently, LPA is the average rainfall between 1951 and 2000, which is 89 cm. anything between 90-95 percent of LPA falls under the "below normal" category. For instance, IMD has predicted 96 percent of the LPA for the year 2019. Now this prediction comes with a plus or minus 5 percent. Considering that 5 percent is the difference between deficient and normal, this prediction really is not all that helpful.
The agencies have a rather mixed record of getting the figures right. While IMD got it right in 2014 and 2015, which were deficient years. It was mightily wrong in 2018 when the rain gods refused to do their bit as predicted. So a normal may not turn out to be normal and a deficient could turn into an above-average. It is possibly because of this unpredictability that IMD takes two shots at the predictions; one is in April and other in May. Statistically, they have a 50% chance of getting it right (or wrong).
So, what can we do? Is there no way that the movement of the Westerlies or popularly known as the South West Monsoons? Well, I remember some years back, an old Mumbaikar had told me, when I was inordinately bothering about the lake-levels, "Son, fret not. Just remember the formula, 3-year rain, two-year pain." It was like the Hakuna-Matata moment. Summing up all the complexities in a simple phrase. Going by that kind gentleman's prognosis, this year seems to be a bit dicey, since we had a bad one last year. Let's just hope that won't be the case. In the meantime, all we can do now is pray, and could also start composing a few new rain-songs, say a remixed version of the Megh Malhar itself. We could ask Amit Trivedi or Bappi Lahiri to help with that.
Shashwat DC is Features Editor at CNBC-TV18. He is closet-activist for sustainability and CSR, when not pondering over the future of humanity or contemplating the launch of the new Android phone.