May 30, morning:
The air hangs about me moist, thick, inert, sticky. Beads of perspiration run down my forehead to the tip of my nose. The overworked fan continues to whirr overhead, industrious but ineffective.
Far below the balcony where I sit overlooking Adimalathura Beach at the tip of the southwest coast of Kerala, fishermen tug at a net bulging with the day's catch. Waves pull the net back five steps for each step of sandy ground gained. The "hai-ho" chant of the fishermen cuts through the dense air to where I sit, watching.
Their womenfolk rush back up the beach with their share of the auctioned catch, yelling frantically at autorickshaws as they race to reach the market ahead of the competition. It has been a great day for them; the menfolk have returned with bountiful catches, unlike the previous day – but there are no smiles, just a wipe of the brow and a carefully balanced basket of fish on their head as they race towards the market.
The sea is a featureless, uniform ashen grey from shore to horizon. The sky is a spectacular jay-blue, with arcing wisps of white cirrus pulling at soft fluffs of cumulus. The clouds are content to stay where they are, in the absence of the absconding wind.
Between the sea and where I sit, the landscape is peacefully pastoral. Butterflies drink deep from ixoras and hungry crows hop about with gaping mouths while above, hoarse-voiced kites churn the skies, their movements languid in the jello- thick atmosphere.
There is a permeating sense of expectancy. We are all waiting for the wind to turn, to blow from the southwest, driving fecund clouds towards land; waiting for when the dam will burst and it will rain without cessation.
Lying on a chair in the verandah, surveying all this through one open eyelid, I bide my time.
May 31, 2013, morning.
There is no need for breaking news bulletins and the internet and other external sources -- one glance from the verandah out towards the southwest horizon is enough.
This morning, there is no horizon. The sea, the horizon, the sky have melded into one mass of dull grey. Oblivious of these portents and intent on their livelihood, the fishermen are out there again, hauling at their nets to the rhythmic ‘hai-ho’, waving their gamchas, toiling while they still can to put fish on our table and food in their bellies.
It is still hot, but it is no longer stifling. There is a breeze of indeterminate direction or rather, one that seems to come from all directions at once. I make my way to the beach and by the time I get there, a steady drizzle has begun.
The rain falls in hesitant drops and it is feather-soft on my skin. Local football teams practice hard on now-slushy fields without missing a beat; fisherwomen yell for rickshaws, shout, jostle as they rush to market.
There are no umbrellas in sight. For the locals, oblivious to this light rain, it is business as usual.
May 31, 2013, Afternoon
Everything feels different.
The fishermen have long gone home, and the beach is desolate. As the afternoon wears on, the sea progressively darkens into a deep emerald. Gunmetal grey clouds sag bulbous over waves that reach ever higher, some climbing as high as nine feet. A spot of sunlight breaks through for a moment, shafting the proud prow of a beached boat.
The wind is almost visibly revving up. The stifling heat of the last few days has been replaced by a faint nip that sends a sudden shiver up my spine.
There is a sense of the momentous about the scene; a sense that the stage has been set, the props put in place, and high drama is about to begin. I grab my rain jacket and my cameras, protected by a dry bag this time, and race down the 120-odd feet to the beach.
If it was nippy up on the verandah, it is blustery down at the beach. The wind kicks up a deafening howl. I am not so much standing on the beach as swaying on the beach as the raw power of the wind hits me head on, with irresistible impact.
The sea, by now turned mossy green, crashes against the beach in incessant waves that break high, dissolving each time into a strange sulphuric ochre froth. The horizon, out to the southwest, has deepened to a dark that defies penetration, defeats description.
On cue, out there in the distance, the rain cascades down – an unbroken, thick indigo veil that drops from the clouds and drowns in the roiling waters below.
It is the Wall. And it is headed towards us.
The stage still belongs to the wind as it fumes and rages, sending empty jerry cans and assorted litter careening along the beach. Crows get nowhere for all their frantic flapping, hanging like trophies in mid-air. The scene changes by the second, as if stage-managed by an over-zealous set director. Colors morph, the light drops and shines and drops again, the now-white waves spring ever higher, their tops wind-whipped into misty wisps.
The rain is yet to hit the shore, but I am already soaked in the flying spray. The wind is unsparing; it whips up sand and flings it at me; individual grains strike like little pellets and adhere.
The light is now gone. Completely. All is dark.
Onto this stage prepared by the elements, the Wall enters. It rushes in out of an indigo blackness, assaulting me like sprays of tiny-tipped arrows. It is unrelenting, this assault; I am soaked beyond belief and struggling to keep my eyes open in the face of a barrage that is sea spray and sand and relentless, furious rain.
I turn my face upwards and drink straight from the sky.
The famed Wall has made landfall on the southernmost tip of Kerala's coast with a dark, heart-stopping, furious, unapologetic beauty.
Suddenly, without visible cue, the weight seems to lift. The beach is lit with a bland glow where, just a minute ago, it was the dark of pitch. And driving down through this glow is an incessant, relentless white rain.
The houselights have come on. The opening act of the southwest monsoon is over.