Three years ago, I met someone who had a poetic way with words. As we grew fond of each other, he had a name for me ’Mawattu’- winter rain. ‘A “mawattu” is different from the monsoon downpour' he had said, 'right in the middle of the cold it comes, taking you by surprise, blowing stormy wind on your face, soaking the ground with hard drops and fallen yellow leaves. And before you know, it’s gone, leaving behind a handful of happiness.’
Flattered I sure was by the poetic comparison, but I remember spending more time thinking about the phenomenon Mawattu than my friend’s affection. My thought tookme to North east where, as a child I saw a woman blowing a conch shell when it rained one winter; she said it was a sign of gods playing and Varun – the Hindu god of rain, throwing his ‘rain ball’ at his divine friends.
3 years passed by. My poet friend and I have come a long way, in our own separate paths. Somewhere along the journey, I almost forgot about the Mawattu, until last evening when in a dusty little village of Bastar in Chhattisgarh state, sipping black ginger tea, an eighty year old man told me about the winter rain.
We were talking about the weather. I had expected Chhattisgarh to be quite cold and therefore, had come with lots of winter clothes. But it was very warm and at times quite hot. The man – landlord of a friend I was staying with, told me that the climate in the state has been rapidly changing, growing warmer every year. “I have been staying this house for eight years now. Eight year ago, I enjoyed a bonfire in the morning. But now there is no need of a bonfire. I miss that. But what I miss is the winter rain. I lovedit so much1” he said and fell silent.
‘Winter rain!’ ‘Mawattu!’ I thought.’ and asked ' How was the winter rain?’ The answer brought back old memories in both him and me: 'its sudden, its something you can’t expect and yet it is something you expect to happen. It is a little furious, but it is also gracious’.
By now I was hungry for more. So I pressed on, wanting himto tell me more of this mawattu. ‘In my garden, I have 4 mangoe trees. There is so much of red dust (there is indeed) here, that my trees are covered in layers of dust. Mawattu cleans the dust, gives a new clean look, opens their body pores, like you and I would open up after a nice warm bath. The trees are happy and ready to bear lots of fruits. But now, the rain has stopped coming and the garden looks dusty, old all year through. There are fewer mangos. But most of all, rain now only means a routine, there are no surprises.
Climate change, I thought, has been robbing our crops, our livelihood and our money. For months, I have been chronicling these affects.But its only today, in this dusty village, I realized that I too have been losing something - something deep and emotional. And its this loss that I and this eighty year old man of Chhattisgarh have in common.