Chasing India’s Monsoon

Photograph of Mira Nair film Monsoon Wedding, India

Still from the film Monsoon Wedding, directed by Mira Nair

GO Books: Chasing The Monsoon

India’s monsoon expected to hit landfall in the southern state of Kerala on June 1

When I was first planning to travel to India, back in 2005, I watched a lot of documentaries. My favourite was called Chasing India’s Monsoon (based on a book called Chasing The Monsoon), and my favourite scene showed award-winning British travel journalist / narrator Alexander Frater sitting in a cafe on the coast of Kerala, near Trivandrum, with a bunch of locals waiting for the annual monsoon to make landfall. As they were embroiled in a heated discussion about when the monsoon would arrive, it started raining outside — but only Frater noticed.

Photograph of the film Monsoon Wedding India

Still from Monsoon Wedding

Every year in May, monsoon watching in India begins in earnest. June 1 is the “ideal” date that the monsoon is expected to hit the coast of Kerala, in south India. If you search for “India monsoon 2012” you will find lots of blogs, articles and predictions about the monsoon — and this year, the experts are saying it will be a normal monsoon season. Sharell Cook from India Travel says the best place to greet the monsoon’s arrival is Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India in Tamil Nadu (where three oceans meet). She also explains the weather phenomenon and suggests five of the best places to enjoy the monsoon in India. The Wall Street Journal’s India Real TIme site hosts a charming Photo Essay: The Wait for India’s Monsoon.

The owner of Mumbai Magic tours, Deepa Krishnan, commented on my Facebook page today, “I was in Kerala yesterday, Mariellen, and it rained in the dawn hours. I woke up at 6 am, and sat on the patio listening to a pair of red-vented bulbuls…and felt the miraculous gentle drops of the first rains… just a precursor to the monsoons.”

Monsoon seems to be a magical time in India, when the cooling rains bring delight and fecundity to the land. It is celebrated throughout Indian culture — and in films like the exuberant Monsoon Wedding, one of my all-time favourite movies. It’s directed by Mira Nair and with fabulous music by my friend Mychael Danna (trailer below).

Monsoon Wedding trailer

Chasing The Monsoon

Watching the documentary Chasing India’s Monsoon was what really got me intrigued about India’s monsoon. I found the documentary riveting, and I was captivated by Frater’s casual, yet sensitive and insightful style. I tracked down and ordered the book he wrote, Chasing The Monsoon — the book that inspired the BBC to make the documentary.

Chasing The Monsoon follows Frater’s real life story as the son and grandson of two weather watchers, and how he made the pilgrimage to the wettest place on earth, Cherrapunji in northeast India, on behalf of his grandfather who always wanted to go there, but never did. It is both a deeply personal quest story (Frater is recovering from a potentially fatal illness) and also a cultural travelogue that follows the monsoon as it sweeps across the subcontinent.

My GO Books rating is 5 / 5:  I would definitely put it in my backpack.

Author and book details

Amazon author bio: “Alexander Frater has contributed to various U.K. publications and, as chief travel correspondent of the Observer, he won an unprecedented number of British Press Travel Awards as well as a Travelex Travel Writer’s Award. Two of his books, Beyond the Blue Horizon and Chasing the Monsoon, have been made into major BBC television films.”

Chasing The Monsoon published in 2005  (Picador).

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19 Responses to Chasing India’s Monsoon

  1. Maya May 28, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    In Kerala the new school year starts on June 1st too. As young kid, I used to wait for that big day. We were waiting very patiently for that day to get new books and to wear our new clothes.Even though the monsoon rain starts on the same day, we get opportunity to use our new umbrella too. To tell you the truth back then, I didn’t want the rain to spoil my first day school either. At the same time, I wanted to test my new umbrella too. Those days, we used to have only black umbrellas. All umbrellas looked same with different handles. So my mom used to stitch my name on the umbrella with white thread to identify my umbrella.
    Also, we used to make boat models out of paper and let it float on the pool of water on our backyard. Now I miss that continuous rain and sound of water flow.Now I am living in Toronto for the past 20 years. Whenever the sky gets covered with dark black clouds, it reminds of the monsoon season.
    By end of May everyone get ready for monsoon. Those days, we didn’t have any electric/ gas stoves.Ladies will collect the firewood necessary for next three months. Also we make enough parboiled rice grains from the rice that is harvested from our paddy fields and dry out the tapioca for the next three month rainy season. Definitely it used to be month long preparation for monsoon season.

  2. Mariellen May 28, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    Thanks so much for you recollections Maya. Life may be easier int he western, modern world, but I think we are missing a lyrical connection to the cycles and rhythms of nature. Beautiful.

  3. Jeremy Branham May 30, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    Thanks for the review on this. Interesting how the culture celebrates the monsoons while the rest of us tend to run from the rain. I may have to check this out and pack it for my trips this year. Hopefully it will be a fun read! 🙂

  4. Lesley Peterson May 30, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    As someone who loves rain, I think it must be wonderful to witness the monsoon. The northeast of India sounds amazing. I’m going to look up that book–thanks for the tip!

  5. Mariellen May 30, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    I often think of that Jeremy — and make an effort to NOT run from the rain, but to see it as a blessing. Of course, it helps if it’s a warm day and a warm rain. Rain can be awfully cold in Canada!

  6. Mariellen May 30, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    Lesley, It really is one of my favourite travel books. Frater is a very talented man, and very genuine.

    • Vish Kidao February 25, 2013 at 1:07 am #

      I have been trying to get a copy of the Documentary ‘Chasing India’s Monsoon, but no luck. Its not in the BBC shop and I cant find a place to download it online.. do have a VHS video, and a DVD with the same Title, but the names of the producer and the principle actor are different.
      Any help would be appreciated.

      • Mariellen Ward March 10, 2013 at 10:26 am #

        All I can tell you, Vish, is that I found it int he library system her in Toronto. I have never tried to buy it. But I wold love to own a copy, it’s a wonderful documentary.
        Mariellen Ward recently posted..A woman’s voiceMy Profile

  7. Dani and Ted May 31, 2012 at 2:43 am #

    Dreaming of the monsoon in 45c heat in Northern India! Certainly wont be running away from it ;-)))

    • Mariellen Ward March 10, 2013 at 10:28 am #

      Yes, I know that feeling! Yet I still have NOT experienced India’s monsoon. Hoping to, one day soon.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..A woman’s voiceMy Profile

  8. Dr. Satyendra Bhandari June 1, 2012 at 6:12 am #

    Frater’s is an undoubtedly wonderful account of the great Indian Summer Monsoon. I bought the book ” Chasing the Monsoon” while at Mumbai airport many years ago and read it during the monsoon months that followed. More than the magic of monsoon rains – the way the onset takes place etc., the author describes beautifully the anticipation, the drama, the mood and the excitement in the forecast offices of the IMD. In the process he brings out the very many facets of what India is – whether it is about getting permissions to visit NE while in the process of chasing the monsoon or about getting a seat in the flight etc. The book really drenches the reader in every aspect of monsoon rains that take India by ‘storm’. The entire country is engaged in it deeply -physically, emotionally and philosophically – while awaiting its arrival or while it is in full swing. In spite of the fact that it brings joy as well as miseries to millions, monsoon rains present a heavenly gift from the Gods.

    Dr. Satyendra Bhandari

    • Mariellen Ward March 10, 2013 at 10:29 am #

      Dr. Bhandari, I am glad you enjoyed the book as much as I did. It is beautifully written, one of the treasures of my bookshelf for sure. And I love that you say “monsoon rains present a heavenly gift from the Gods.” That’s a lovely way to look at the monsoon.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..A woman’s voiceMy Profile

  9. Ashleen Moreen June 7, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

    Hi Maya, thanks for sharing about Chasing India’s Monsoon. I am glad to know what’s the culture of India and also what is this so called Monsoon. Nice share!

  10. Charu June 19, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    As a child growing up in Chennai, Tamilnadu, Monsoon season was always met with a blend of fascination and annoyance. Fascination because of Diwali and colorful festivals, but annoyance at the thought of dreary rain. But I knew the farmers desperately needed it, and every year we would wish them a strong rainy season. It still is an important time in India, and a blessed one…provided no one gets hurt (a lot of flooding occurs in Orissa, Bengal etc. because of the monsoons).

    • Mariellen Ward March 10, 2013 at 10:31 am #

      Thanks for sharing your memories, Charu. Yes, the monsoon can be both blessing and curse, but of course overall it is a godsend.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..A woman’s voiceMy Profile

  11. kutch science June 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    LAST year 2010 is the record rain year in last 50 to 100 years BUT Some one published that there would not be a drought in Kutch for at least one century AND ALL THAT published in news papers without any scientific evidence and without any support of knowledge.

    There has been records of two cycles of weather in KUTCH. though a mini cycle of 3 years of good and bad rain is known as short term periods as we are aware of in our regular life time.

    But a major cycle of droughts and very Good Rain cycle are different e.g. 40 years of cycles of major droughts (e.g. 1, CHHAPANOVikram Sanvant 1956= 1900AD and 2nd 1940 KUTCH FAMINE CHHANAVO Vikram Sanvant 1996= 1940AD) affecting most parts of western Monsoon system and also has Good Monsoon of 30 years cycle. both of those weather cycles falls in 120 years world weather cycle studied scientifically with rings in tree trunks. as good rain makes a ring wider expanding growth and narrows in famines. (30×4 cycle=120 years=3×40 cycle)

    CHHAPANO 1956 VS= 1900/01 famine has been recorded in major parts of the world tree records. and if cycle is repeating after 120 years Major world dropout is possible in next few years after next decade!

    Year 1901 Population dropped to 4 88 000 (12%) due to FAMINE of CHHAPANO (Vikram sanvant 1956= 1900AD)

    1940 KUTCH FAMINE ( CHHANAVO ) (Vikram sanvant 1996= 1940AD) IN THE YEAR 1941 Population dropped TO 4 98 000 WW2 and fight of Independence

    • Mariellen Ward March 10, 2013 at 10:33 am #

      Thanks for a different perspective, a scientific one. Science of course has its own valuable perspective which many find as useful and beautiful as the more artistic, mythical, cultural and spiritual views of monsoon.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..A woman’s voiceMy Profile


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