Friday, July 1, 2011

The east wind

I have vivid memories of visiting Kashi as a child.

We would stay with my mother's sister, during the months of the summer vacation. My mausi had a small home in the middle of a very busy part of the ancient city. With its characteristic narrow streets, teeming with rickety old bulls. And, street-side halwais stirring their kadahis full of hot milk and sugar. The fragrance of a thousand different kinds of burning incense would make us feel that God indeed lived in Kashi, which was perhaps the holiest of the holy, to the Hindus. We would be told the same story over and over again, about how Ma Annapurna (The Goddess of plenty) convinced Baba Vishwanath (Lord Shiva) to settle down in Kashi, after she fed him a hearty meal. And Kashi became the new home of Baba Vishwanath. Forever.

The summer afternoons would be hot, and while the rest of the family would be snoring downstairs, taking a  respite from the heat, I would be on the rooftop, watching the monkeys. They would come and go in troops, with many of the mothers jumping around with infants clinging to their bellies. One such afternoon, with the monsoon right around the corner, the sky got very dark at about three in the afternoon. A strong wind was making the triangular red flags on the rooftops flutter vigorously, and the bamboo poles they were being flown on, were swaying to and fro. An old lady, who lived next door, was collecting her drying clothes from the rooftop. The clothes were held down by clips that looked sturdy. Since there was no sign of rain, I asked her why she was so afraid of the wind. I didn't think her laundry could fly away so easily.

She smiled at me and said, "Babu, purvaiya ke aagey, chale na koi zor". (Babu, nothing can hold its own before the east wind). And then, she collected her laundry, and left.

That was my first introduction to the word Purvaiya. After the hot and sultry months of May and June, the people in India eagerly look forward to the Monsoons. For most states in North India, the rains are brought by the easterly winds. Those strong winds, known as the Purvaiya, have a special place in the hearts of the people of North India.  For centuries, romantic poets have written ballads in the dialects of Braj and Awadhi, describing the dark clouds (ghan ghor ghata), the thundering rain (garaj-baras), and the easterly wind (purvaiya). These words make up the vocabulary of monsoon, and, they are quite unique to India. The romantic month of Sawan, which brings about this yearly spectacle of nature, has a special place in Indian literature. And the arts.

Thousands of poems and songs have been written using the vocabulary of monsoon. And the word purvaiya, features in many of them. My favorite song, which includes many of these monsoon words, involves a boat-ride on a river, and a rustic song on Sawan, sung by Mukesh and Lata Mangeshkar. I don't think you will find many fans of Bollywood songs, who haven't heard this beautiful one. At least once.

Now that the Monsoon is here, I hope that some of you are enjoying the east wind. And the moist feel of the rain on your faces,  that comes free with it. Some of you are probably watching the pouring rains from your verandahs or window sills, and those of you, who are brave enough, are probably getting the first voluntary drench of the season. With your family.

Over the last few years, I have seen the tug of the monsoon waning for the people of India. We don't seem to be delighted by this wonderful spectacle of nature any more. Nowadays, we seem to notice the arrival of the monsoon, when the traffic slows down due to water logging. Newspaper headlines do not scream the arrival of the monsoon like they used to. Why would they, when the met-office, with all its supercomputers, can now plot a detailed trajectory of the rainclouds? Down to the hour.

Perhaps, this is the inevitable consequence of progress, and the urbanization of India. The force of the changing times is a very strong one to resist. Like the east wind, progress, is quite resolute in its intention of changing things for us. Perhaps, the old lady, and that handsome Bollywood couple on the boat, were right.

Nothing can hold its own -- before the east wind.


  1. Desi Babu, You are in your elements in this post. Enjoyed it.

  2. What a topic to write on. Enjoyed it completely.
    here are my verses. I penned them so years ago:

    Wash the imprints of my sorrows.

    Take away the maladies of the past.

    Usher in some hope for the future.

    Drown the miseries of the present.

    Leave behind joyful tales.

    Grant some long-promised wishes.

    Let lose a new lease of life.

    Draw an indelible smile.

    And, what a song!:)

  3. A real delight to read , made me wonder how much we are caught up and how much have things changed over time, “Purvaiya” a word long lost has brought back my own memories of living in the north

  4. It is thanks to Suhan who mentioned this link at my blog that I came here. It was really very nice to read about your experiences with the purvaiya. In Bombay, where I grew up they were simply the monsoon winds. I will just repeat here, if you don't mind, my answer to Suhan's comment.
    This post makes me feel so nostalgic.
    Kashi or for that matter the whole of North India is totally unknown to me except for the two visits to Delhi (in Feb and March resp.). All the same, all Indians have this bond with the monsoon, which shapes their lives. Monsoon as a child meant getting wet in rain, going to watch the crabs in the stream which flowed near our house, getting the feet muddy, Mom making hot bajhiyas for tea, which taste totally different in monsoon or for that matter also the different kind of vadas. Monsoon also meant the beginning of the school but also getting the new covered books wet, collecting flowers for the different festivals in month of Shravan and getting weet with the siblings while doing it! So many delightful memories of monsoon and when you start teilling your memories of monsoon or the winds preceding it, it creates a bond or a link!
    Thanks a lot to you for sharing your memories and in this way also waking up mine!

    1. Thanks Harvey for your kind words! The Monsoons do bring out a lot of sentiments amongst us Desis, don't they?