It rained today in Delhi, very lightly. We counted the raindrops as I waited for the school bus with my daughters. But it’s mostly dry here these days, as it usually is from October through June.
I remember when I first visited this city in early July 1992, I was here for the very first rain of that calendar year, in early July! I have very clear recollections of that monsoon experience, marveling at the massive raindrops as they plunged into the deep Delhi dust that had been piling up for months. What a sight! And what a smell as the wet invasion sent particles of dust everywhere into the air. I also remember that on our six-month visit in 2000-2001, from November through April, it did not rain once. Yes, this is a climate with a distinct dry season.
However, this year we remember the rain in Delhi. It was apparently the wettest monsoon in 32 years. And it lasted well into October. The end came none too early. For once, the people in Delhi were tired of the rain. They were longing for it to stop. This is, however, not usually the case. In a place that suffers from intense heat for a good portion of the year, the rains mean cooler weather. By the time the monsoon season starts in late June or early July, the dry heat has become oppressive, with temperatures reaching almost fifty degrees Celsius on a pretty regular basis. Clear skies mean continued oppression. Clouds mean possible relief. During these past five years in Delhi, we have also learned to welcome the monsoon rains. Although, I will admit, we have been somewhat resistant to learning this lesson based on the vastly different climate where we’re from. Our home in British Columbia, Canada, is situated in a temperate rainforest, which makes for very wet weather conditions for most of the year. In every season, there is rain. It is true that there can be stretches of time during the summer months when there is no rain, but if that is the case for even one solid week, then people are quite amazed, and pleased. Therefore, for most of my years growing up, I considered a sunny day a nice day, as far as weather was concerned, and a cloudy and wet day a bad day. It was as simple as that. So when I saw people here in Delhi rejoicing at the prospect of rain, even at the sight of a cloud, it seemed odd, at least before I experienced a complete year here and understood the obvious reasons behind the rejoicing.
Still, there are reasons not to like monsoon. And this year, the prolonged rains accentuated those reasons.
The first reason is mold. We’ve encountered it here before, but nothing like this year. During August and September, the mold was growing everywhere, covering the clothes in our closets and the books on our shelves. The air was so moist that the mold wasn’t just hiding in the dark, dank corners of our house, but it was boldly appearing elsewhere, even on curtains, suitcases and furniture. It felt as though it was taking over.
Another reason to dislike the monsoon rains in Delhi is the traffic. City traffic, of course, is bad in normal conditions, but when it rains it clearly gets worse. There are various reasons for that, but the most prominent is the puddles. There are different kinds of puddles, but the ones that really slow traffic down are the massive puddles, the ones that span the entire road and can be up to a foot deep. People usually think twice about even entering these puddles, which means a lot of cars going really slow, and some completely stopped. The puddles are most often the result of clogged drains, and it is amazing how many drains are not working properly in the city by July. Of course, in some ways, it’s understandable, because those drains haven’t needed to function for months due to the complete lack of rain.
Adding to the puddle problem are the giant holes in the roads that even modest puddles hide. These are holes, sometimes in the strangest of places, that people drive around during dry season, but as the rains fill the holes they become disguised as mere puddles. Even if a couple inches of water cover the road, it could hiding a hole that is a couple feet deep! I’ve seen it many times when a small car has ventured into a shallow puddle and then suddenly plunged into one of these holes, leaving them stuck and stranded. It’s quite a sight.
Aside from other oddities like some people driving unreasonably slow with their flashers on and others driving unreasonably fast in an effort to make the biggest spray through the puddles, another strange phenomena is related to the number of two-wheelers on Delhi roads. People like us from Western countries have no reference point for the multitudes of motorcycles and bicycles that flood the streets in most Asian countries. It’s often one of the first things that foreigners notice about traffic in India. If there are tens of thousands of cars (and there are more than that), then there are hundreds of thousands of two-wheelers (sorry, no statistics). As you can imagine, it’s not too much fun riding a two-wheeler in the rain. So, often what we see in the city, once the rains start falling, is motorcycles huddled together under shelters, sometimes at bus stops or under the awnings of buildings. But the most popular places for motorcyclists to congregate out of the rain are under overpasses, or as they call them here, flyovers. These are not designated areas for this; there are no neat and tidy dry zones. This is India, so whatever works. What happens then is that as you’re driving your car in the rain and your route takes you under a flyover suddenly you come across hundreds of motorcycles in a bunch, like ants to spilled syrup. And they clog the roadway, sometimes completely. It’s sort of a like a really big puddle but you can’t drive through it without killing someone and really wrecking your car.
Anyway, the rains are over for now. And it might not really rain again until the next monsoon arrives in July, which is still seven months away.