Monsoon has been an integral part of the Bengali life and literature. The season has been dominating the minds of the people from the earliest period of Bangla literature, from the days of Charyapada to the modern age in different genres like poem, songs, hymns, elegies, novels and short stories. The poets of Bangladesh like the other poets of the subcontinent consider monsoon as a season of separation from the loved one, of sighs, of nostalgia and many nameless longings. They often used to personify Barsha as a young woman pining for her lover. Almost every educated Bengali knows the wonderfully lyrical rhyme Bristi pore tapor tupur, nodey elo baan... and subconsciously mutters this rhyme when the rain comes down in torrents.
When we talk about Ashar (monsoon), an image of gloomy and dim face of nature appears in our mental montage. The sky from dawn to dusk remains overshadowed by clusters of clouds. Clouds in the sky mean refreshing rain that has a romanticizing effect in our hearts. Our love for clouds got a literary supplement in the hand of the great poet Kalidas with his famous creation Meghdutam: (Cloud as Messenger). Since then, perhaps, began the tradition of looking at the formation of the clouds with the third eye and the whole of the subcontinent fell under the spell of Kalidas as a great cloud lover. When the clouds float in the sky like the surf of the sea, the Bengali hearts dance with an unknown sensation.
Thus, the Bengalis became the greatest inheritors of Kalidasesque love for clouds. When the sky darkens as the sun disappears beneath a blanket of scudding clouds, then, seemingly in an instant, sheets of rain gush out across he parched landscape. The happy scattering raindrops announce the arrival of the regenerating monsoon. With the life giving rain and its wild storm, the monsoon is a mixed blessing, whimsical, unpredictable just like a sixteen year obstinate girl.
Barsha appears with its different shapes and moods to different poets. Vidyapati, the great Bengali poet of the 14th and 15th century, finds the image of Barsha in a girl on a secret romantic rendezvous (Abhisar): How the rain falls, In deadly darkness, O gentle girl, the rain, Pours on your path, And roaming spirits, Straddle the wet night, She is afraid, Of loving for the first time, O Madhava, Cover her with sweetness, How will she cross the fearful river, In her path...This bashful romance with the rain that causes scared commotion in the heart continues till this day.
When the new drops of the monsoon rain fall on your long- parched body after the simmering summer, your body would give a shuddering response as if you are a sensitive plant (Mimusa Pudica) and the rain gives you a stirring touch.
In the public university campuses a common scene during the early monsoon that attracts your eyes is, the girls in the rickshaw lifting down the hoods getting deliberately soaked in the rain with bunches of kadam phools on their locks. Thus, Barsha, the rain- soaked girls, and the kadam phools make up a superb trinity augmenting the beauty of the monsoon to an extent unimaginable.
Monsoon comes and the earth becomes awash while the greenery becomes strikingly rich. On the other hand, the monsoon rain makes the tender hearts of the youth fertile as it comes up with the message of love and warmth to the lovers or the would be lovers. It creates advantage for the couples to hold the rain drops on the palms to see each other's reflection.
Many, of course, compare the rain with tears to soften the hearts of their beloved. The rain has such a beautifying and magnifying effect that no matter whether you use it as a simile or metaphor it will make your text really lovely. Why is this fascination for rain while in the Western countries its beauties and bounties are looked down upon? Instead, they give a hearty treatment to the summer, “shall I compare thee to a summer's day?”- Shakespeare asks his fair friend.
From the end of February the sun gets hotter and hotter, the earth goes dry and the cultivable lands becomes just like the wrinkled face of a decrepit woman. The noons are intolerable while the afternoons are dull and heavy. The mating calls of cuckoos seem boring. In this dry situation, the whole body and mind are desperate for the soothing cool of the rain. The monsoon makes a sudden and devastatingly impressive appearance and we all become showered with the life-giving rain.
The first rain of the monsoon brings widespread excitement among the children. They feel thrilled with the downpours. Their joys know no bound as they go out and have a douche in the rains spreading water and mud over each other. Those who were born and passed their childhood in the village can easily understand how much delightful it is to make paper boat and make it float in the pools of the yard formed by the rain. During this time, boys play football in the grubby ground. There is a sheer exhilaration on their mud-spattered faces as they kick the balls and fall down in the ground. The more sedentary people like to remain inside the room in comfort sinking into a state of torpor. They pass their time listening to soft ghazals or Tagor's songs.
Though the English writers seemed to be much economical in celebrating the melodies of the monsoon, some writers were, of course, fascinated by it. Rudyard Kipling gives an interesting view of the early monsoon in his short story False Dream- set in north-India the story gives a fair indication of our monsoon as well: I had felt that the air was growing hotter and hotter but nobody seemed to notice it until the moon went out and a burning hot wind began lashing the trees with sound like the noise of the sea. Before we knew where we were the storm was on us and everything was roaring, whirling darkness. Another renowned writer E M Forster in his Hill of Devi gives a vivid and interesting account of the Monsoon: …the full monsoon broke violently and upon my undefended form. I was under a little shelter in the garden. I saw some black clouds and some spots of rain. This went on for quarter of an hour so that I got accustomed to it, and then a wheel of water swept horizontally over the ground. The aged man clanged to each other for support. I swept this way and that as the torrent veered, wet, through of course, but anxious not to be blown away like the roof of palm leaves over our head…
The great modern English poet TS Eliot's use of clouds and rain is rather arresting. He concludes his famous poem The Waste Land by alluding to the thunder story of the sound of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad where the sound of the thunder explained in alphabetic term DA, which carries three shades of meanings for demons, men and gods: Datta, Dayadhbham, Damayata (give, sympathize and control). In “What the Thunder Said' section Eliot says:
Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves
Waited for rain, while the black clouds
Gathered far distant, over Himavant.
Datta, Dayadhbham, Damayata.
Shantih Shantih Shantih.
Eliot sought for Shantih-peace from what the thunder said. The poet turns the nerve breaking sound of the thunder into a propagator of peace! Rabindranath Tagore has used the flute to mean many things on many occasions. To him, thunder is the flute of God: Vojre tomer baje banshi se ki sahaj gan (You play your flute in the thunder that is no soft music).The different attitudes in celebrating the monsoon between the Westerners and more romantic writers from Kalidas to Al Mahmood are effortlessly understandable.
In modern times Rabindranath Tagore, Dijendralal Roy, Rajani Kanto Sen, Atul Prasad Sen and Kazi Nazrul Islam all have interpretations of the rainy season in their poems and songs. In Tagore, particularly, the rain suggestively has assumed the highest aesthetic dimension. The somber cloudy sky gets into a strong interaction with the human mind and awakens it to a sense of sorrow. Tagore has made use of this sentiment in the human soul improvising hundreds of songs through amazing compositional variations, which are the glowing treasures of our literature and source of perennial pleasure for us. Among many, the one that moves me much is Emon dine tare bola jai, emon ghana ghor barishai… In this way the monsoon comes with many moods and shapes and takes an enduring place in the senses and sensibilities of the Bengali people. The life of the Bengali people, physically or psychologically or spiritually is consistently wrapped up by the monsoon. It wets the land and wets the soul.
(Lecturer, Department of English, Leading University, Sylhet, firstname.lastname@example.org)