Miracle of the monsoon

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In The Death of Mr Love the narrator, Bhalu, tells the story of his idyllic childhood running wild in the ‘Ambona Hills’, giant snouts of rock covered in deciduous semi-tropical rainforest that run along India’s west coast. In the book they are called the Ambona Hills.

The  Ambona Hills  are of course the Western Ghats, or Sahyadri mountains, that run down the west coast of India from Gujarat all the way to Kerala and Kanyakumari. The hills in the novel, and in the pictures shown here, are the part of the range south-east of Bombay (now Mumbai) near Khandala and Lonavla.

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I gave Bhalu many of my own childhood memories, of going looking for wild animals – there were leopards, wild boar, pythons, deer – going fishing in the many lakes, catching striped danios in the monsoon streams that would mysteriously fill with fish and crabs where days before there had been nothing but dry rock.

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‘The descriptions of the Western Ghats and Bombay’s Dongri area are simply exceptional’ – Outlook India

‘…what must be the definitive description of the western ghats through the eyes of a small child make this a novel that haunts one long after one has finished the last page and regretfully put it down’ – IndiaClub.com reviewer

‘…Sinha’s exquisite eye for detail : “The hills crouched like beasts around the lake, reaching rocky tongues to the water”’ – EW.com

The monsoon miracle

For most of the year the hills are dry, covered in long blonde grasses. They are made of basalt, formed in fire, and during the hottest part of the year it seems that the lava is still burning just below the surface. Giant potholes mark where giant gas bubbles burst up through the molten rock. The view is lost in haze too bright to see through and the ground is so dry that plants crunch as you walk, with a herby scent. It is so hot, the only thing stirring is the air shimmer.

One day clouds appear in the west. Soon the hills are lost in mist. The first fat drops fall, kicking craters in the dust and coaxing from it (to quote Tagore) the goodly smell of rain on dry ground. Next morning the hills are green. Tea coloured torrents are pouring off the hillsides and rushing through streambeds that have been dry for months. A miniature jungle springs up to cover the land and through it roam tiger-striped centipedes whose jaws can pierce shoe leather. Strange sappy plants push out white bract-like petals. They are wild turmeric. The forest releases clouds of butterflies. In flooded fields, crabs appear from nowhere and when the streams clear one finds that they are full of tiny fish: danios, catfish, snakeheads, loaches. The volcanic potholes become aquariums.You can find fish halfway up mountains that last week were dry, how did they get there? I have never heard a convincing answer.

To me, who first saw this as a child, it was and always will be a miracle.


bhimashankar

Image: Yogesh, yogesh@iucaa.ernet.in

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Get The Death of Mr Love from Amazon.co.uk

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