This happened sometime during the last year. It was another usual afternoon of June in Mumbai. Humid, overcast with intermittent rain, the day passed along. Ira, my daughter, in between playing with her toys, stopped near the window to see the rain as it continued to pour. Recollecting one of the children rhymes, she started humming,
‘Rain rain go away
Come again another day
Little Johnny wants to play
Rain rain go away!’
It just hit me then and there. Such a usual rhyme but I have never realised the situated and contextual nature of this rhyme (You can see it here). This is because, just some time back, we both had listened to a Marathi children rhyme called ‘Ye re Ye re pavsa’. It goes as follows:
‘Ye re ye re pavsa
Tula deto paisa
Paisa jhala khota
Paus aala motha’
The rough translation of this would be:
Rain please come,
I will give you a rupee
The rupee became fake
It rained a lot!
Apologies for a really poor translation. Another interesting Marathi song on similar lines is as follows:
In this song the kid is asking the rain if he is angry (yes he, in Marathi, rain is often referred in male pronouns) as he does not seem to come down. Frankly, it is complex. Because while referring to rain, it is often male pronouns (हा पाऊस), but when it comes to a drizzle (सर-sar) it is referred in female pronouns (ही सर). I am no expert in language so this can be pursued at a different time, in a different place. Let us turn back to the topic of this blog.
The exactly opposite nature of request (by kids) in the English and Marathi rhymes made me realised something that I have been trying to work around as part of my PhD. This concern was pertaining to, what most of us learned about since our science and geography classes in primary school. It is commonly called as water cycle or, in high school, the hydrological cycle.
The not so continuous hydrological cycle
The classical hydrological cycle depicted a continuous nature of movement of water with vapourisation in oceans to cloud formation, winds, rainfall, run off through rivers, streams, groundwater and back to the sea. I will not go into the details, as most of us know this with some minor deviations. But why does this matter now? And how is this related to the discussion on the rhymes shared above? Recent work by some researchers have explored the contextual nature of development of the concept of hydrological cycle. Most important article of these, by James Linton in 2008 questioned the nature of hydrological cycle for its universal and situated origins. I will try to summarise what he meant. Linton made three key arguments focusing on the historical and geographical contexts within which the concept of hydrological cycle was put forth:
a. The concept of hydrological cycle was put forth by North Western European individuals who constantly saw drenched landscapes and perennial rainfall. This has resulted in a temperate bias in conceptualising the hydrological cycle. Unlike western Europe wherein the vapour laden winds flow throughout the year, many tropical regions like India have a different experience of the hydrological cycle.
b. Linton describes what he refers to misrepresentations emerging due to hydrological orientalism:
‘It also emerged from the hydrological orientalism- the mis-apprehension and portrayal of deserts, arid lands, and tropical lands as respectively barren, poor, uncivilised, lawless and violent places (and peoples) that required the intervention of hydrological engineering to be made civilised.’ (pg. 640)
This has also allowed for emergence of a discourse of dams, watersheds and engineering water to channelise, store, arrest, percolate (paani adva, paani jirva), and tame the uncivilised tropical waters that otherwise do not adhere to the norms and laws laid down by the waters of North Western Europe.
c. Lastly, he asks us to focus our attention on the ‘rather wild tendencies’ of hydrological phenomena which are increasingly grasping our attention thanks to events induced by climate change (pg. 644). This was quite evident for a relatively small window monsoonal region like India, where, in Maharashtra’s many districts the June Monsoon was not quite satisfactory, challenging the discourse that has often been mainstreamed till date.
Why does Johnny want the rain to go away while kids in Mumbai and elsewhere want it to fall down?
Take a look at a typical year of rainfall in London, UK (Source: RGS Teaching Resources)
Looking at the graph one can easily understand why rain spoils the fun out of Johnny’s outdoor time. He does want the rain to go away. On the contrary, look at a typical year of rainfall in India:
As can be seen from the graph, the ‘monsoon’ season is predominantly focused in four months (June to September) for most of the country (although this may be a different experience for regions like Tamil Nadu, coastal Andhra Pradesh). Thus, most people in India yearn for the monsoon, and it is even considered as a harbinger of life for the subcontinent. The children rhymes only depict this earnestness of expecting a good rainfall. Their rhymes, thus, are contextualised in this nature of rainfall experienced over the subcontinent.
As I sit in a village in Osmanabad, enjoying the rains that seem to have only recently begun, I contemplate how such global discourses shape not just our relation to water in terms of needs but also the cultural (literary, in this case) aspects of that relation. It made me revisit my musings on the topic last year and thought I should write about it. Coming back to Ira, and myself, there are some choices we have to make when it comes to selecting which is the next rhyme we pick up for humming and from where!