Weekly Dispatch 1: The Monsoon, Fishermen, and Weather Bloggers

The North-East Monsoon has arrived at Chennai. The rains have been persistent. We could hear the mighty winds from the Bay of Bengal howling through the ducts and door gaps at our apartment. The winter jackets have come out. These cold rainy days are precious to me and I’ve been reading the Twitter weather bloggers and anticipating the rains. It is then I stumbled upon a series of articles on ‘The Wire’ called “Science of the Seas” – a journal documenting conversations about the sea with Palayam, an artisan fisherman from the coast of Chennai. I binge-read most of the 7-part series (I notice that 2 more updates have come out in the last few days). The traditional fishermen have a precise understanding of wind patterns and effects, which the author corroborates with satellite images. We also hear about Palayam’s coming of age as a teenager when you out on his into the sea and nets a good catch.   

Traditional fishing communities are among the few in modern society who have an intuitive understanding of natural elements around us like the wind and the sea. They need to. Artisanal fishing involves the uncertainty of hunting and food gathering of prehistory. The Trobriand Islanders from my Sociology class a few years back come to my mind. The sociologist Malinowski observed that one of the functions of religion was to help the participants deal with situations of uncertainty. There are few things more uncertain than deep-sea fishing, especially when you’re just equipped with a small wooden catamaran. People like Palayam belong to a rare kind and I’m really glad that I got to read some of these conversations.

I’m a pluviophile alright. The rain and cyclones make me joyous. But there is another side to it which I never articulated to myself. I realized only as I read the post of a hobbyist weather blogger:

“We always wish to see an extended monsoon and the monsoon ending days and the cyclone missing ones (like Phethai 2018) are the most saddest days…. The moment the weather models remove rains, we get that instant sadness too…We curse those cyclones for missing us “

Pradeep John (Tamil Nadu Weatherman)

I got the validation for the sadness that ensues me when rains give a miss, or a cyclone shifts course, or when the monsoon ends. If you want to stay in the rainy mood and experience the monsoon seated in your armchair, I recommend Alexander Frater’s travel book “Chasing the Monsoon.” Alexander pursues the dream of every pluviophile. He travels with the Indian Summer Monsoon (South West Monsoon) – from Trivandrum in Kerala through Alleppey, Goa, Bombay, Delhi, Varanasi, Calcutta, Guwahati, and Cherrapunji.

I watched a couple of movies last week:

  1. A Stranger (1991) by Satyajit Ray (‘Agantuk’ in Hindi) – A minimalistic drama set mostly in a Bengali household in Delhi. A long-lost uncle invites himself to his niece’s home. What follows is an attempt by his hosts to confirm his identity and his motives while also ensuring their hospitality.  Through the well-travelled and intellectually developed Manmohan (the uncle), the film takes us through philosophical conversations on civilization, technology, religion, identity. I have been a fan of Ray’s films and ever since I stumbled upon a short clip of the movie on social media, I have wanted to watch it. It did not disappoint.
  2. Friends & Strangers (2021) by James Vaughan – Set in contemporary Australia, shows a few weeks in the life of two millennials (Ray & Alice) who seem directionless and misplaced. The setting is beautiful with the initial scenes in a campsite, before returning to Sydney and luxury villas on a beach boulevard. I have mixed feelings about the film. It started well, but it seemed to meander to eerie weirdness in the second half. I just could not make sense of the theme being communicated. But it was still a memorable watch with beautiful landscapes, an assortment of interesting characters and a glimpse into today’s Australia.   

Both the movies are available on MUBI, a movie curation cum streaming service. You get a trial subscription for a week which is extendable by another month.

The weekly dispatch will include the best of what I read, watched, or listened to.

Until next time.

Notes

  1. Science of the Seas – The Wire
  2. Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater
  3. A Stranger by Satyajit Ray
  4. Friends & Strangers by James Vaughan
  5. MUBI