Nature's whims and fancies

Early flowering of mango trees, rain constellations going haywire, disappearing nor'westers, shifting seasons - all these unusual phenomena can no longer be brushed aside as one-time occurrences. These are manifestations of gradual but sure changes in climates over a period of time. People share some of their bizarre experiences while weathering these changes

Published: Wednesday 28 February 2001

-- have been aware of weather changes now for about 14 to 15 years. I started studying the agricultural system of a part of the Western Ghats, the western part of Ambegaon tehsil of Pune district. Here, I learnt about the rain constellations and their associated rain patterns. The local people told me that there were 13 rain constellations in all, namely Kritika, Rohini, Mrig, Ardra, Punarvasu, Pushya, Ashlesha, Magha, Purva, Uttara, Hasta, Chitra, and Swati. They described the peculiar rain patterns associated with these constellations. With their crops totally dependent on the rainfall, the farmers, in turn, depend on their traditional knowledge of rain patterns for growing their crops.

Some 20 to 25 years ago, the area used to receive pre-monsoon showers regularly in mid-May on constellation Kritika , and the farmers sowed the paddy just before these showers came. But, the rains became irregular and finally ceased. So they had to depend on the showers of Rohini , which too, became irregular and altogether ceased the same way. Now, they wait for the constellation of Mrig. But even that , which comes by the second week of June, has let them down. The Mrig showers were gentle and the seeds, instead of getting washed off, sprouted well and took firm root. The showers during the next constellation Ardra were heavy, but by then the saplings of paddy and other hill millets take root and are strong enough. The next one Punarvasu - also called 'the old-man- kor ' -- was a steady one but Pushya or 'young-man- kor ' or 'destroyer- kor ', that follows Punarvasu, used to be so heavy that the young saplings were destroyed. The next to come was Ashlesha , which had a peculiar rain pattern. It would suddenly rain heavily and then there would be sunshine and the water ran quickly. The constellation Magha was said to be a moody one. It might rain very heavily or might not rain at all. Under the Purva , the next constellatin, it would rain heavily and for longer duration and then there would be flash floods in which people were washed away. There could be upto seven events of such flash floods in a day.

Under Uttara , the next one, the rain went towards the north and so it rained less. Hasta (elephant), again, is a peculiar constellation, when the rains were heavy with strong winds. These are the 'returning monsoon' and the rains under these constellations could be harmful. On the next constellation, Chitra , rains were moody and would affect the crops adversely. Then comes Swati , the rains of which were mild but they made a difference. In some villages they were beneficial while in some others they were not.

For the last ten years, people in this area have been telling us that the rain pattern was changing and becoming unpredictable. In some years, the rains came before time and a number of fields went without being sown. The land, when soaked, gives out heat which helps the already sown seeds that are dry and hot. But if the sowing is done after the rains, then the lands are cold and germination suffers. In some years, the sowing and germination went fine. But then the rains ceased over a long period of time. As a result, transplantation of paddy and ragi (finger millets) and varai (hill millet) could not be done on time. This affected production adversely. In some years both of these harvesting processes were affected and it had a compound effect.

My husband, Anand Kapoor, and I have also been working in Madhya Pradesh, mostly in the eastern part, for the last two years. We have observed that in this part, the rain pattern has undergone a tremendous change. The rains, especially in the post-harvesting period of kharif crop, have resulted in severe damage. Paddy, the major kharif crop here, rotted in the field itself. It was later harvested and put for drying in the fields. To add to this, the rabi crop could not be started as the fields had too much water for ploughing or sowing. The result was severe food shortage.

- Kusum Karnik
Manchar, Maharashtra

Mango trees ( Mangifera indica ) flowering in November! This is an anathema. People in Orissa were stunned to see mango trees flowering so early. This has amused and worried the lay man and the environmentalist alike. The mango called amba in Oriya normally flowers in late winter and the fruit ripens in summer. The mango flower is called baul in local parlance. As per the Oriya calendar, the baula amabasya (the ritual welcoming of the mango flowering) falls sometime during the later half of December. In western Orissa, mango flowers later, in mid-January. But this season, many 'country' and 'hybrid' mango trees throughout Orissa have flowered prematurely. In Sambalpur, Bargarh, Cuttack, Nayagarh and many more districts, this unusual phenomenon has been noticed. A shift in the cycle of mango flowering by two months is significant and certainly a matter to worry.

Traditionally, the people of western Orissa eat mango only after offering it to the gods. The ritual is called gundikhai and is celebrated in the month of phagun , which is in spring. Gundikhai is observed to invoke the gods so that diseases like measles are kept at bay. But people were confused this season. The mango trees were laden with fruits yet gundikhai was still five months away. They were in a real fix for if they waited for gundikhai to arrive the fruits would rot in the trees. Yet they could not eat the fruits less the gods were displeased!

This unusual phenomenon has occurred due to the increasing rise in temperature each year. This is bound to affect the behaviour and practice of the plant. The higher the temperature, the higher is the rate of biological processes. Due to the ever increasing global warming, all biological processes are advancing ahead of time and are becoming premature against the normal patterns and predictions.

-Ranjan Panda Sambalpur, Orissa

Young children in Bangladesh are taught that there are six seasons a year. The Bengali calendar revolves round a six-season cycle. And Tagore composed songs on six seasons -- summer, monsoon, autumn, late autumn, winter and spring. But many Bangladeshi farmers and fishermen are hard put to actually identify the six seasons. In almost every year, one or two seasons are missed. This affects their production activities and in turn, their lives.

The distinction between autumn and late autumn in the Bangla season is blurred and it is difficult for urbanites to clearly distinguish between late autumn and autumn. However, farmers in Bangladesh can identify the seasons distinctly. A slight change in temperature, humidity, changes in wind direction, are noticed by them. This is part of their traditional knowledge handed down by ancestors. They notice a bit more mist or a cloudy sky for a longer period or in unusual pattern and they can assume its effects on crop production.

Abul Kashem, a farmer of 65 years, lives in a village at Kurigram in north Bangladesh. The Teesta, the Brahmaputra and the Dharala are the three major rivers that cross Kurigram. The rivers dominate life at Kurigram. With about one acre of land, Kashem's farm work depends on the Teesta. As it overflows in the rainy season, Kashem's land and crops submerge. His homestead too. After the water recedes, the land turns fertile with deposits from the Teesta. Within weeks after the rainy season, the Teesta starts drying up, chars (shoals) crop up here and there. Kashem's land also dries up. His agricultural activities get affected. With observations of years and lessons handed over by ancestors, Kashem's crop cycle moved on keeping pace with the inundation and drying up of the Teesta. And the river widened and shrinked in symphony with the seasons.

But, now, during the last few years, Kashem has failed to keep pace with the changing mood of the seasons. He is worried when in early summer there is no kalbaishakhi or nor'wester. This happened quite often in the last few years. In his childhodd days, Kashem recollects, the sky covered up with dark clouds in mid-April during the afternoon. Within a short time a storm would brew. It was a regular seasonal event in the villages of Bangladesh. The storm was accompanied with mild showers or hails. Dry, parched lands turned wet and the farmers started ploughing. But in the last few years baisakh passed by without nor'westers. There were the occasional storms but not the ones that had the power and fury of nor'westers. This hampered Kashem's tilling of the land.

Similarly, in the last few years, Kashem says the scorching summers were longer or there were rains for days in summer, which was unusual. During the monsoon, from mid-June to mid-August, it used to rain continuously for days, during his younger days. But recently, there were no rains in the monsoons. It either rained in the summer or in autumn. So Kashem and his fellow farmers are at a loss. "It affects the yield of the land," he says.

During the last year, the cold was very severe, Kashem says. A heavy mist shrouds the area in winter. The mist persists sometimes even up to noon. Sometimes for days the sun is not visible in the winter due to fog. "I've never witnessed such winters," says Kashem. "Its difficult for us to survive. Our vegetable farming gets affected," he says.

To him such changes in seasons can only be the hand of god.

Farooque Chowdhury

The most striking change in the local weather is a shift in the period and patterns of the different seasons. Out of these, the shift in the monsoon is most remarkable. Earlier, it started by the last week of June but during the last few years it was pushed back to the first week of July or sometimes even the second week. I am talking about the fully developed monsoon, ignoring the occasional rains, which is common here. Another feature is the prolonged rainy season. Earlier, we used to have a clear weather during the post monsoon season. But that has not been the case during the last few years. Skies are always overcast. Summers are longer and hotter which often causes forest fires. And the winters are shorter and are not as cold as it used to be.

--- Dharmendar Kumar Dube Almora, Uttar Pradesh

I feel that the rains have decreased a lot in my region. During my childhood I remember the monsoon was rainy and cold. But now I don't see such continuous rain anymore that used to last for two or three days. There was a river nearby in Nagarvali. But now I can only see the vestiges of a dried up river. My grandmother used to say that there were annual floods in this region caused by the river Vamsathara. But I have not witnessed any floods during the past seven or eight years.

--K V Atchyuta Sridhar Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh

I am from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, once known as the poor man's Ooty. Coimbatore enjoys a fairly pleasant climate round the year. But over the years, things have changed.

When I was in the Air Force Administrative College (afac) in 1957, it was a 'no fan' station since the climate was chilly. I do not recall a single day's discomfiture. In fact, it was quite chilly when we lined up for physical training at first light. Thunderstorms were fairly frequent and a cool breeze blew from the west till the receding monsoons arrived from the northeast.

Two decades later, in May, I saw every room in Coimbatore had fans and they were needed for the climate had changed. My next visit was in March 1983 when I had sanctioned an air conditioner for a particularly hot room in a hospital. Thus, the climate at Coimbatore had warmed over the years. I went back again in December 1987 and finally when I retired in August 1990, I set up home here. Over these four decades the climate has changed perceptibly. There are more warm days and the pattern of rainfall also appears altered.

-M Vain Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu

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