When I was a kid, torrential rains in Chennai from cyclones of the northeast monsoons usually meant ‘Rain Holidays’. The State Government would declare that all educational institutions be shut, and I would spend the day at home, enchanted by the pleasant surprise.
This usually meant finding ways to amuse myself, without going out (or watching television, which barely had any interesting programming. Something that hasn’t changed much, I realize), and the default option was to eat, read, and talk. Usually in that order.
Monsoon can mean a variety of things to different people – whether it is leisure or work, relaxation or vexation. For those who are lucky to have a small ledge by a window, where they can watch the rains and enjoy this season of fresh life, here are my book recommendations. As always, there are numerous nuggets for a sustainable and natural way of life.
‘Tiffin’ by Rukmini Srinivas is a book full of recipes – many of which are utterly delicious on warm, humid, rainy days. Rukmini writes detailed and rambling stories about her family, and her life in different parts of the subcontinent and in various countries of the world, and how the mid-evening snack was a beautiful constant in her life. Many of her ingredients are seasonal. She recommends making a ‘Mango Fool’ for the summer and monsoon – a tangy, pungent, and sweet juice. For other parts of the calendar, there are various recipes and medicines – foods that change to suit the season and pre-empt illnesses.
Another excellent book that is simply meant to be read in this season is ‘My Husband and Other Animals 2’ by Janaki Lenin. Her work with her husband, Romulus Whittaker, converted abandoned farmland into a forest – recreating on a smaller scale, the amazing work of Jadav Payeng in Majuli. It is a carefully and lovingly written book (she mentions that a terrifying-looking scorpion is a lot less dangerous than it looks), and I can’t help taking a second look at my life and habits when I read it.
‘A Naturalist’s Journal’ by Yuvadeepan is a treasure for anyone looking to find nature and wildness in the boxed existence of urban life. He writes about the idiosyncrasies of birds in a marsh (even though the marsh is now bisected by a terrifically busy road), his encounters with snakes, dangerous humans, the innumerable and endlessly interesting insects (and their friends and foes) all around us.
Moong Over Microchips by Venkat Iyer is an account of a man (and his family’s) transition from a traditional urban life into the world of organic farming. He writes both about the changing the mindsets of local farmers about chemical fertilizers, and simultaneously learning from and working with them. There are anecdotes about the economics of selling organic produce and the incredible markup added by grocery store owners and traders. It is an interesting tale, especially relevant since it is written from a farm in Maharashtra – among the states with the sharpest agrarian crises in the country.
And if you would like a slice of fiction to go with these, Ruskin Bond and RK Narayan are always around with stories that come with the fragrance of the earth.
Enjoy this monsoon, revel in its muddy glory, splash in some puddles and come home to a mug of something warm, a book and the dim light of a sun behind beautiful black clouds. A sustainable life is always one with the simplest of joys.
P.S. All those books can be read on e-readers.