Rendezvous with Monsoon

There is more to life than just yourself, your own family, or your own kind – Lawrence Anthony

My date with monsoon was as unexpected as the date of its arrival. I think, if it were not for our reliance on monsoon, it shouldn’t be predicted at all. So this year I stayed away from the news flashing its arrival, although I sneaked some information from discussions with, literally, everyone I met. And just as unpredicted was the place where we’d meet – on a Friday evening on the way home from work. If anyone saw me smiling they had no idea if it was for the last day of the week, or for getting my shoes wet in the first monsoon showers of the year.

After all the days spent waiting desperately for the rains to arrive, the monsoon sure does surprise everyone with its pre-monsoonal heavy downpour. People forget the scorching heat of the summer, and get a new reason to complain about wet clothes and muddy roads. Although greeting monsoon in the city was unexpectedly pleasant for me, I would not call it a rendezvous until I had met monsoon in the woods, where monsoon’s persona really comes to life, where monsoon sways with the trees, blossoms with the flowers, sings with the wind, and dances with all life capable of flight. Monsoon always begins with thundering and lightening as a prelude to a four-month long song of heavens. And we monsoon-seekers hop around woods seeking out the large and small dancers of the tunes. And as leaves remain soaked for more-or-less throughout the four months, many emerge and die, and procreate and sow seeds for the next generation to continue the grand performance.

Yet as much as I romanticize a date with monsoon, I must tell you that it is riddled with swarming mosquitoes, horseflies, ticks, and leeches – and the deeper you go into the woods, the further it feels ethereal, and unbearable. But to feel the essence of monsoon, one has to brave it.
The semi-deciduous forests in the backdrop of cumulus
Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary
So here we were at Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, rendezvousing with monsoon with hordes of mosquitoes and horseflies flying about us, capable of piercing through pants and shirts. The climate remained cool and humid, warming only when the sun peeped through the clouds. It was June the Eighth, the day after the day monsoon is officially (on papers) set to start.

It is important to note what your date is going to be about. It is going to be a lot about flowers, new shoots, and insects, reptiles, birds, and, in general, everything you sight – for all of this has been moved by the monsoon as much as we’ve been touched by it.

On your first walk, you will see a lot many flying insects; one in particular will be brown in colour, with inch-long wings and a very indolent flight. These are the winged termites which emerge with the first showers; they are the monsoon-seekers too. Unfortunately for them, they are packed with a load of proteins, and are a favourite food of every other predator, from other insects such as ants and flies, to birds and mammals. This is also nature’s way of preserving harmony in the natural world – for too much of something always poses a danger to the rest.
A robberfly feeding on a winged termite
There would be lizards such as Skinks and Calotes, hunting with utmost concentration a flying termite, that it will hardly notice you stalking it from close distance.
Many-keeled Skink, Mabuya carinata, hunting for winged termites
Another insect that soon takes to the air with the first showers are winged ants – the drones, and the females. And one particular, the Camponotus, fills the air. They’re on every leaf you see.
Ant drones ready to swarm the air
And there are some who have decorated themselves with dead ants. The nymphs of an Assassin Bug are notoriously peculiar about their hide (or suit), that it consists only of a particular species of ants.
Assassin bug nymph in its best dinner suit - the carcass of ants
You will be amazed by the butterflies dancing in circles – the male chasing the female round-and-round.
Spot-swordtail butterflies doing the courtship dance
Another ephemeral of the monsoon are the Tiger Beetles, out hunting and playing and mating, for their life is too short, and only lasts until the prelude of monsoon gives way to the incessant downpour.
A mating pair of Tiger Beetles, Cicindela fabricii (or is it spelled C. fabriciana?)
The Forest Calotes with their blood-red war markings are showcasing their prowess to females. A mating pair of a Calotes indeed resembles a clash between two red-painted warriors.
A mating pair of Forest Calotes, Calotes rouxii
The puddles are a home to crabs, mostly large gravid females, their abdomens bulging proudly with adorable brood of crablings.
A mother field crab carrying crablings (young crabs) in her abdomen or brood pouch
The ground is moist, almost wet, and on rocky precipices grow the ephemerals – the most delicate and passionate lovers of monsoon. Some have already flowered, some are still buds, and many are waiting to sprout in a conflagration of vivid colours.
Chlorophytum tuberosum growing along the rocky parts of the hill under the shade of tender leaves
The people living in the forests have collected the last lot of dry branches to build their homes, for it won’t be until October that they can harvest dry wood.
Branches of Karvy, Strobilanthes callosus, used to build walls of huts
My rendezvous was full of exciting findings that are seen only during this time of the year. If you haven’t fixed your date with monsoon yet, do not falter – she is here to stay. All I would advise you is to be aware of your surroundings as you go on to indulge yourself. Every flower we pluck, we reduce the chance of fertilization for the plant, we reduce the chance of a bee collecting pollen to feed its brood, we reduce the chance of a bird feeding on its seed. Do not litter, do not leave behind anything, nor carry anything back except memories and photographs.
Carpet of Chlorophytum tuberosum
If you are going to go get your clothes dirty photographing all the plants and animals, you can view and download  a report on some of the flowers and invertebrates of the Sahyadri I was fortunate to observe in 2011.
I wish you all a merry monsoon and a wonderful season ahead!

4 comments:

  1. You know, at heart you are a poet. May be you can try writing some verses? As for me, I enjoyed my 1st tryst with monsoon looking at soaked birds and animals and strange brown flies and happy frogs and soaked crows eating them. My neighborhood dog tried munching on a few but gave up as she didn't quite enjoy the taste. Thanks for the beautiful pics but may be you shouldn't shoot mating insects, after all it's prying on their privacy...

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    1. Thank you, anonymoustothepointofinfinity. I assure you that a mating pair of any organism on this planet, other than humans, are not worried about their privacy as much as a chance to have a successful progeny. I make sure that they are not disturbed during their reproduction :)

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  2. Well I guess even if they did take offense about it, they would probably forgive you 'cause you make them look so good on camera, even while mating or while viciously devouring each other. As for us humans, we have increased our numbers so much and have mostly been able to wipe out most of our predators that now instead of concentrating on mere successful procreation we have busied ourselves with trivial things like privacy, sex of the fetus etc. I seriously dread the day when there will be so many people that there won't be any space left for anybody or anything else on Earth.

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    1. That's very kind of you. Nature always has a way of proving that it is far more resilient than our species is. If we leave our gadgets aside, we are the most vulnerable species on this planet, so we're not truly free of predators - even a mutated common flu can wipe us off the planet. I agree that our focus has shifted a lot now, we're off the "survival of the fittest", as nature has knowingly or unknowingly advocated - but it might also lead to our fall. Who knows? It's rather pessimistic if I say time will tell.

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