National Geographic : 2009 Nov
hundred miles northeast of Mumbai, hadn t had any signi cant rainfall for seven months. Most of India at this point was caught in an inescapable annual wait. In New Delhi, the heat had triggered power cuts. Dust storms raced, unmitigated by moisture, across the northern states. Tanker trucks clogged the rural highways, delivering government-sponsored loads of drinking water to villages whose wells had run dry. Meanwhile, radio newscasters were just beginning to track a promising swirl of rain clouds moving over the Andaman Islands, o the southeast coast. All day, villagers had been speculating about those distant clouds. It was gambling time for rain-dependent farmers across India. In the weeks leading up to the monsoon, many would invest a signi cant amount of money, o en bor- rowed, to buy fertilizer and millet seeds, which needed to be planted ahead of the rains. ere were many ways to lose this wager. A delayed monsoon likely would cause the seeds to bake and die in the ground. Or if the rain fell too hard before the seedlings took root, it might wash them all away. "Our lives are wrapped up in the rain," ex- plained a woman named Anusayabai Pawar, us- ing a countrywoman s version of Marathi, the regional language. "When it comes, we have everything. When it doesn t, we have nothing." In the meantime, everyone kept scanning the empty sky. "Like fools," said an older farm- er named Yamaji Pawar, sweating beneath his white Nehru cap, "we just sit here waiting." I once be- lieved the gods controlled the rain, they were starting to move beyond that. Even as they carried betel nuts and cones of in- cense up to the goddess s temple, even as one by one the village women knelt down in front of the stone idol that represent- ed her, they seemed merely to be hedging their bets. Bhaskar Pawar, a sober-minded, mustachioed farmer in his 30s, sat on one of the low walls of the temple, watching impas- sively as his female relatives prayed. "Especially the younger people here understand now that it s environmental," he said. Satichiwadi lies in India s rain shadow, an especially water-deprived swath of land that includes much of central Maharashtra. Each year after the summer monsoon pounds the west coast of India, it moves inward across the plains and bumps against the 5,000-foot peaks A fickle monsoon sky disappoints farmers crossing the Bhima River on a Hindu pilgrimage to the city of Pandharpur. Instead of a much needed downpour, the clouds deliver a mere sprinkle.