Monsoon Feelings: A History of Emotions in the Rain review: The call of the peacock
Linking images, sounds, smells and tastes of a summer phenomenon
By: Geeta Doctor
In this volume as heavy with the promise of the rain bearing clouds that herald the monsoon, the editors have sown the seeds of several ideas about the phenomenon. As Imke Rajamani explains in her introduction, the essays are a compilation of the ideas and thoughts shared during a conference held at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin in June 2015.
Going beyond the specific topics connected with the idea of the monsoon in South East Asia, Rajamani tells us, “A new approach suggests we research concepts beyond language. Emotion concepts can be approached as multimedia networks of meaning that link not only words, but also images, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile impressions that people get from their environment and various media.”
In a charming essay ‘A Meeting of Earth and Sky’ by Vidya Rao, on her experience of sharing a “thumri — a form of Hindustani classical music,” she explains how her idea of the monsoon changed as a result of being a part of the conference. Her essay suggests that amongst other features the monsoon is a bringing together of opposites.
This is a recurrent theme that runs through the often varied and scholarly essays. There are wonderful reproductions of the miniature tradition of paintings from the 12th century onwards. These emphasise how each period was distinct in the use of subjects, perspective, colours and themes, reflecting for the most part the poems that they were meant to illustrate. Even the manner in which the different artists painted the storm clouds, often in stylised scrolls reminiscent of Chinese textile traditions, or created borders around their subjects in the style of the Persian manuscripts show how artists copied from each other and yet brought in their own “feelings”. What is also evident is the rich landscape of flora and fauna for both poets and artists with which to share their emotions. The cry of the peacock, or the koel, or sight of white herons streaking through the dark clouds is never far from the perceptions of both the artist and the viewer.
The second half of the book is devoted to more immediate concerns, an excellent piece by Rachel Dwyer on Bollywood representations of lovers in the rain.
This was a wake-up call for this reviewer. In all the essays, there is no mention of the South, Kerala with its Ayurvedic lore, Tamil Nadu celebrating the goddess during the month of Aadi, the time for harvesting the rice in fields filled with rain-water.
Fertility lives. But apparently thrives only in the imagination of scholars fixated on the North.
Monsoon Feelings: A History of Emotions in the Rain; edited by Imke Rajamani Margot Pernau & Katherine Butler Schofield, Niyogi Books, ₹1,750.
Courtesy The Hindu