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Sunday, Oct 20, 2019

Mumbaiwale: This description of a monsoon from 1853 seems like it was written only yesterday

One Englishman’s memory of the city as the rain hits, is both poetic and descriptive. See how much has changed and how much has stayed the same

mumbai Updated: May 31, 2019 21:50 IST
Rachel Lopez
Rachel Lopez
Hindustan Times
‘To those persons who have but just arrived in the country, and who, having never experienced the setting in of this remarkable season, have formed from description but an imperfect idea of that change, the scene is pregnant with horror of every kind.’
‘To those persons who have but just arrived in the country, and who, having never experienced the setting in of this remarkable season, have formed from description but an imperfect idea of that change, the scene is pregnant with horror of every kind.’(Hindustan Times)
         

Because the rains are my favourite time of year, here’s a passage detailing what the monsoon was like in 1853 when Henry Moses wrote An Englishman’s life in India.

The skies become darkened, and sheets of blazing lightning, followed up by the roar of deafening thunder, succeed each other with fearful rapidity; and in broad day, the eye can scarcely bear to look upon the flaming heavens, so intense is their brightness. The elements are indeed at war. Large drops of rain begin to fall; and falling, raise up, in consequence of their weight, a cloud of dust; and then, within a brief space, the mighty floods descend upon the thirsty land.

The tempest is terrific to behold, and man trembles beneath the storm. He seeks in haste the shelter of his mudbuilt cabin, and mutters a hurried prayer to the stone idol which he has set up. The high houses in the Fort of Bombay vibrate with every clap of thunder; doors and windows, and walls and floors are shaken by the loud artillery of heaven. Torrents of water pour down from every roof, and bound over, in broken streams, the sounding verandahs below them, sweeping the various streets as the flood rushes onward, laden with mud and rubbish, towards the sea.

Hindustantimes

To those persons who have but just arrived in the country, and who, having never experienced the setting in of this remarkable season, have formed from description but an imperfect idea of that change, the scene is pregnant with horror of every kind. The newly-arrived Englishwoman in particular suffers exceedingly at this period, being scarcely able to divest herself of the impression that everything around her is about to be destroyed or washed away; yet it is very seldom that accidents occur or that property is seriously injured. Occasionally we hear of exposed horses being struck by lightning on the Island, of old palm trees blown down, and of leaf roofs being dispersed to the four winds of heaven; for woe be unto him who lives in a bungalow with a bad roof, or in one whose spouts are out of order.

Hindustantimes

But with these exceptions, Europeans on shore have but little to be alarmed about for their personal safety. Myriads of mosquitoes, now driven in by the rains, fill your apartments; and your lamps at night, if not properly covered over with a glass shade, are liable to be suddenly extinguished by the large green beetles that have sought shelter from the storm without. Flying bugs almost poison you with their fetid effluvia, and contaminate every article of food upon which they may chance to alight. The musk weasels dart in under your China matting, and find their way into your wine-cellars, and every cork they touch, every bottle they spoil. That nimble and really useful reptile, the house lizard, climbs your walls in all directions, and comes out so regularly from under your table after dinner, to feed upon the flies attracted thither, that you quite look for the active little creature as a matter of course, to amuse you during dessert time; and if he fail to appear, express regret, as I have heard an old gentleman do, at its non-arrival. The loathsome centipede gets into your cooking-houses, and hideous spiders, with hairy bodies and long legs, take up their quarters in every available corner and door-way. They are not content with staying at home quietly like our own respectable, though small species, and of taking their chance of what may be sent them ; but they must make daily tours all over the establishment, as if it were expected, that they should pay visits to one another, now that the season had brought them into town.

The punkahs or swinging fans suspended in your rooms, now have rest from their labours, for the atmosphere is sufficiently cool without any artificial currents of air. The sweet-scented cuscusmats, or tatties, hung outside between the pillars that support your verandah, and kept wet, in order to lower the temperature of the heated breeze before it enters your house, are now taken down and laid aside; and quite a change takes place in all your little plans within doors.

First Published: May 31, 2019 21:43 IST

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