Under a Cloud by Binoo K. John, with its eye-catching cover and a few colour plates, sets about the task of looking at life in the world’s rainiest place (along with Hawaii’s Waialeale), and unravels some of the mysteries attached to the phenomenon at Cherra and the nearby village of Mawsynram, and then casts a story.
The “Great Rain Show” crucially begins at midnight, where there is “an aura of expectation and a soporific stillness in Cherrapunji”; a phenomenon that has cast a spell on locals, visitors, meteorologists and neighbouring Bangladesh alike, and played out for three months.
In fact, in 1873, a torrent of water is reported to have moved a 250-tonne block of granite over a distance of 100 yards in a night.
But what is even more fascinating is that in this plateau, there is no flooding. And there can be a drought too. Or even the biggest recorded earthquake, 8.8 on the Richter, in 1897.
Writer and MLA Paul Lyngdoh, who is currently reading the book, says, “John has a rich poetical sensibility which is reflected in the book. It is a travelogue that captures the essence of Sohra.”
John has quoted numerous facts, especially recorded during the Raj that he has acknowledged from his many archival sources, the main one being the Assam Gazetteer. The book essentially comes alive in his journey into the “watery innards” of Cherra — in his descriptions of the beauty of the hills, and his account of the lifestyle of Khasi people who inhabit them. This could be the heart of Cherra, not the rains, and, in a way, the heart of his book as well.
There is the description of children skipping along to school with careful attention on not getting their notebooks wet, and the “in-good-shape education industry in this playground of evangelism”; the blanket-covered labourer waiting to be hired; John’s classifications of his experiences in the various jeeps and rickshaws in Shillong; the shadow of secessionism; the bureaucrats; his run-ins with the Khasi women, “with their sense of purpose, poise and confidence that comes with their having been brought up in a matrilineal society”; a hair-raising trek and stomach churning meals.
“John has a knack for attention to detail in painting a panoramic view of the Cherrapunjee landscape, its chequered history, its cultural relevance, proselytisation and its alluring beauty,” Lyngdoh says.
John begins to unwind his journey and meets the rain men to unravel the magic behind the blast of rain in Cherrapunjee’s Met office. An analysis of the figures in the row of columns have weather offices the world over reaffirm Cherra’s exalted status as being the “Clouds’ Own Country”.
“A worthwhile read, I would recommend it to everyone”, he says.
Reading suggestions for the week:
1. 3 Novels by Cesar Aira
2. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano