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UCA News
Jesuit Father Myron J. Pereira, based in Mumbai, has spent more than five decades as an academic, journalist, editor and writer of fiction. He contributes regularly to UCA News on religious and socio-cultural topics.
A meditation on the Indian monsoon
In Christian symbolism, water — a universal symbol of purification, healing, fertility and life — is a sign of the Spirit
Published:
August 29, 2021 03:38 AM GMT

Updated:
September 01, 2021 10:46 AM GMT

I’ve been standing by my window the last 30 minutes, watching the rains lash the city.

It’s been like this the whole week. To borrow a line from the Noah story, “The windows of the heavens were open, and the fountains of the great deep burst forth.”

The waters have inundated the road in front of the school where I live, and each gust of wind and blinding rain causes its ancient walls to shudder.

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The downpour has been incessant, flooding streets, dislocating traffic, dismembering buildings and spreading a miasmal feeling of damp and gloom everywhere.

“This is India, where everything is in excess,” a friend of mine from Europe remarked.

Whether flood or drought, searing heat or chilly rain, in the tropics nature knows no moderation, no half-measures.

Monsoon skies are grey and forbidding, as winter is thought to be. But monsoon scenes are lush with scenery after the barren heat of summer

Everything here struggles to survive. Plants shoot through pavement edges. Creepers burst through cracks in the wall. Huts ribbed in plastic cling to the hillside, and so do human bodies pressed desperately to the doors of suburban trains, drenched by passing showers. That’s what life is — a struggle.

Is this what the city does to its people? 

Traditionally, the monsoons have evoked other feelings in the Indian soul: nostalgia, memories of childhood, fantasies of romance, longings for life and freshness.

In every Indian language, lyrics celebrate the rain — from the Meghdoot of Kalidasa to the “Ye re, ye re pausa" (Come, come, gentle rain), the Marathi nursery rhyme known to every child. Musical ragas like Malhaar and movies like Barsaat (rain) celebrate the moods of the season in all its tenderness and unpredictability.

Other climes have their “autumn leaves” and their “winter wonderland.” In India, we have our monsoon, curiously both our spring and our winter.

Monsoon skies are grey and forbidding, as winter is thought to be. But monsoon scenes are lush with scenery after the barren heat of summer. It tells me that there are seasons of the soul, just as there are changes in nature: A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to reap.

In Indian history, the chaturmas (four months of rain) were times when armies traditionally disbanded and hibernated, building up resources and honing their skills until they crossed the frontiers once again at Dassera, the festival signifying the victory of good over evil..

I seem to be bemoaning the excess of water. Actually, it’s the very opposite. As our ecological awareness sharpens with each passing year, what gets hammered home is our abuse of … water.

We have polluted our oceans and our rivers with chemical effluent, toxic waste and oil slicks. We’ve systematically felled our forests and in the deserts we’ve created springs even as our wells run dry and inland seas turn into dust bowls.

And our physical bodies too, dehydrated with alcohol, drugs and synthetic beverages, thirst for that natural fluid in which we were born and nourished, and without which our roots can only be stunted.

In Christian symbolism, it is a feminine reality, a sign of the Spirit

Water is a universal symbol of purification, healing, fertility and life. Every culture acknowledges this. It also represents a power unlimited and untamable.

In Christian symbolism, it is a feminine reality, a sign of the Spirit. For it is the Spirit of God which “broods over the face of the deep,” and brings about creation — life, fecundity, prolific and abundant variety, the “increase and multiply” of Genesis, and the Spirit of God, which as the river of life, floods the New Jerusalem in the last pages of Revelation.

No wonder then that our “new life in Christ” begins with being washed in water and soaked in the Spirit!

The showers have ceased. The streets glisten in the pale afternoon sun. On the roads below, urchins splash in the brown gutters. And this tired, broken city, cleansed and renewed, begins whirring again. Once more, it’s the monsoon.

Father Myron Pereira SJ is a media consultant based in Mumbai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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