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Mawsynram and the monsoon: Where the sun hides for a month

Ramzauva Chhakchhuak | Updated on July 03, 2020 Published on July 03, 2020

Sound and light: Rainfall in Mawsynram can be deafeningly loud   -  MARLON RANI

Life in Mawsynram, known as the wettest place in the world, is shaped by the monsoon rains

*Mawsynram in Meghalaya receives an average annual rainfall of 11,872mm

*Cherrapunji, which earlier held the distinction of the wettest place in the world, is 15km away from Mawsynram

In Mawsynram, a village in the East Khasi hills of Meghalaya, you hear “khyndai miet khyndai sngi” (nine nights, nine days) mentioned a lot whenever its residents talk about the monsoon. The phrase seems almost biblical but is apt, considering Mawsynram receives, on average, 11,872mm of rainfall annually. Cherrapunji, which earlier held the distinction of being the wettest place on the planet, is 15km away. The region receives heavy rainfall owing to its high elevation, which cools the moisture-laden winds from the Bay of Bengal and the plains, leading to cloud formation and, eventually, rain.

RW Rapsang (59), a teacher in a local school, says there were times in the past when he witnessed rains continuously for “12 days and 12 nights” during the season. “It is quite common to not see the sun for an entire month. Then when it does come out, it’s just for a short while. It is as if the sun is out for a peep to see if we are alive or not,” he adds.

The season, which begins in May and goes on till October, is marked by how deafeningly loud the rains tend to be. “We’ve had to cancel classes because there was simply no way for the students to even hear the lesson being taught,” Rapsang says. “By the time the students come to school, they are drenched from head to toe. So we can’t possibly tell them to remain like that in the classroom,” he says. Raincoats and umbrellas seem to serve no purpose here. “Despite all this, we do manage to complete our courses every year,” he adds proudly.

 

Even though people spend a lot of time indoors during the monsoon, life does not come to a standstill. People still go to work. Shops still open in this village of roughly 4,000 people.

“Since there is no sun for weeks, we have to dry our clothes and bedding using electric heaters,” says Lastborn Shangpliang (54), the headman of Mawsynram. Clothes are put on metal dryers and then placed near the heaters, while some still use coal braziers. Washed clothes do not always dry completely, leading to a musty smell. Mist and fog make their way into the house even through the tiniest of crevices, leaving the walls and everything inside in a damp state.

“Most houses were not so sturdy back in the day. I lived in a tin house during my childhood and remember having to put buckets, mugs and dishes even in the bedroom because of the leakages,” says Shangpliang, who fondly remembers the days when he would wade barefoot in the water on his way to school with a knup, a kind of protection against the rain made of bamboo slats. Not many students use the knup now.

These past few months, life had come to a standstill here much before the monsoon, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. People here, however, need no lessons in how to stay at home for long periods of time. Wankitlang, 26, studied in the village till Std X and went to the state capital, Shillong, for higher studies. “It does get very boring indoors. We pass time by playing carom and cards and we just talk a lot. Elders also tend to tell us all kinds of stories about the past and present. It is a good time to come together,” he says.

Around this time, people in Mawsynram usually like to eat boiled potatoes with tungtap, a local delicacy which is a chutney made of fermented dry fish, chillies and tomatoes. “It’s something that just seems right for the rainy weather. It does not taste quite the same without the rains,” Wankitlang adds. But when he makes his way to his home town, it’s not the heavy rains that worry him but the dense fog. “Sometimes it even takes three to four hours to reach home from Shillong because of the fog,” he says.

Nothing can compare to the feeling that comes from sleeping on a warm bed under a blanket while listening to the rains, Shanglpliang notes. “When I was younger, come rain or storm, we would still play in the football grounds of Mawsynram without any hesitation. Now all I see are kids staying at home with their phones.”

Panora Marbaniang (38) says there’s no choice but to stay in. The lights had been out at her house for the past two days, a common occurrence during the season. “Phone connectivity is also a big issue in such times. We just sit around and do nothing literally,” she says with a laugh. There is hardly any agricultural activity in Mawsynram since the top soil gets washed away, so people mostly go into trade. There are local markets on the outskirts of the town and the border with Bangladesh is also nearby. “Small businesses, daily wage labourers prepare for the monsoon like bees and ants prepare for the winter. They are active from winter to spring because they know they can hardly do anything once the rains set in,” Rapsang says.

Ramzauva Chhakchhuak is a writer based in Bengaluru

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Published on July 03, 2020
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