Human Flower Project

The Rain Letters

Sandy Ao, photographer and friend, showers us with West Bengal’s cultures of rain.


Citizens of Kolkata wade the streets at the end of the monsoon, October 2009

Photo: Sandy Ao

Note: In May, reading reports of cyclone Aila that struck West Bengal, India, and Bangladesh, we contacted our friend in Kolkata Sandy Ao, with alarm. Over the past several months, she’s been writing to us about how rain shapes the culture of the region. September’s monsoon is a season of myth and very real power. It brings relief, disarray, death, and celebration. Thank you, Sandy!

May 27, 2009

Dear Julie,

This cyclone was a most welcome one for a change!

We did not have rain for months. Actually during the last 8 months, we had some dust storms and a spell of rains for 2/3 occasions only. Normally we have rain during Saraswati Puja. Or at least during Good Friday. But this year not even a drop of rain was there.

We had the heat waves throughout the country, and Kolkata had the hottest day with Mercury touching 43c.+ (109.4F). So we feel this strong wind and rain almost like God sent!



The March 2009 rains brought relief after dust and drought in Kolkata

Photo: Sandy Ao

Yes, we have lost some lives and many trees being uprooted.

As for the lost human lives, the cause will be, they are the ones that do not have proper homes. As for the falling trees, the reason will be, around the city, no proper varieties of trees are selected for planting.

We have the common trees such as the Gulmahor which are almost planted on the surface of the pavements. Otherwise, we will find plenty of banyan trees that actually took root wildly around the streets of Kolkata.

With no maintenance throughout the year,  such as trimming of the branches or mulching the soil, when a gust of strong wind comes, we see these trees falling like nine pins!


Indoors as the rain falls, July in Kolkata, 2009

Photo: Sandy Ao

Julie, you may find it hard to believe, how we, the people here welcome the rain, even if it comes as a cyclone!! Every stormy day is with a holiday atmosphere! Everyone likes to laze around the house during a rainy day in India! And if it is a cyclone!  surely schools, work places, shops etc.  all will be closed.

Anyway, after reading your mail, I feel I should have gone out to get few pictures with all the trees lying around. But we see these scenes too often, and I tend not to be serious about taking pictures of a cyclone day!!


Who welcomes the rains most? India’s birds and farmers.

Photo: Sandy Ao

I took few pictures of the crows rather. How they enjoy this welcome rain .... they even turn their black feathers into white… letting the soothing rain soak right through their skins!

I wonder if there will be more trees lying around the city? Perhaps, I should go out and get few pictures tomorrow!


June 13, 2009

Dear Julie,

After Aila,  we are back to the hot humid weather. Besides this, we have power cut daily! There are surely weather changes in India. The best way for us is to stay indoors.

imagePumping water in a rainy street, Kolkata, July 2009

Photo: Sandy Ao

The other day we happened to pass by a park. I took few pictures there. I notice that though this year there had been no rains for many months, the reeds, the grass, the lotus, the vegetables, the fruits and the trees are thriving, as bountiful as in any other year!

Nature always amazes us doesn’t it?


July 22, 2009

Dear Julie,

I do not know what excuses I should start with!!

I guess first of all, this year’s summer heat was the worst that we have ever had. Along with power cut, our brains seemed to be not functioning at all!!

The second excuse will be my Internet connection was very irregular. With every power cut or occasional dust-storm/ lightning, the net connection will be gone for days.

The third excuse will be, one evening on the way home, I was knocked down by three drunken motor-bikers! Fortunately , no bones were broken, a few cuts, bumps and bruises… However,  I am recovering fast, except still feel a bit un-nerved.

Anyway, I am sending few pictures which I took on the river bank this summer, which I am sharing here with you.

I came across this Brahmin whose home, livelihood, temple..etc are all under this Banyan tree. He said that this tree is more than three hundreds years old.

He told me that during Aila, the cyclone, except few branches were broken, otherwise, nothing had happened to him, his god/goddess and the tree. And there were no damage at all around him and the rest of the trees along this river bank.


A Brahmin, safe under his banyan tree after cyclone Aila, 2009

Photo: Sandy Ao

I notice that he sells tea, some biscuits, cigarettes and pan barag ( The dried Betel nuts) for his living… as he is a Brahmin, he offers fresh flowers for his gods/goddesses faithfully. And he has lots of friends. Must be the neighbours, who live under the other trees, drop by for chit chats.

Looking at him, his life is so simple yet he lacks nothing like the way we do. He looks so calm and healthy, and surely he will never be lonely with so many friends around him.

He sees the sunrises and the sunsets… he sees all the stars.. he has the moon and the tides… he has this ancient Holy trees as home and he has his gods and goddesses…he has this holy river… in fact he has the whole universe with him!

What a simply way to live life in this age… time stands still when we go to river sides, be it Mullickghat, Babughat…simply amazing.

I will send you more pictures of these river bank dwellers in my next mails.

imageNavigating the streets after a monsoon rain in Kolkata

Photo: Sandy Ao

You asked me about the Monsoon in India…. How I wish I could have the talent to put them in words to share with you.

Hmmm…..well, for the city dwellers, pre-monsoon means the suffering of discomfort from the heat , the power cut, the humidity along with the pollution, the dirt…

And when it rains, we struggle from the streets flooded with the dirty water from the choked drainages….the danger of walking/standing along the old buildings ... unable to catch any transport to reach home…  the danger of being electrocuted in the flooded streets.

But then monsoon rain comes it washes away all the dust around us. It may sounds strange, actually only rain water cleans all the skin rashes too, and most of all the cool rain water calms our nerves!

And of all,  good rain falls are good for Agriculture. As India is still an agricultural country, good rain falls mean good harvest and good growth. I guess that’s speaks for why we love monsoon more than any other seasons in India.

imageA lotus flowers in July’s rains

Photo: Sandy Ao

I do not know in your country whether you have any special seasons to plant plants? Here, monsoon is the best season for planting any plants as well sowing flower seedlings.

Ever truly,


July 26, 2009

Dear Julie,

I am sending few more rainy pictures.

We are at this moment not really having the real monsoon. We have few light to heavy showers on and off. The weather has become quite agreeable, as there are no more dust storms, which take place during pre-monsoon.

As the breeze has become gentler, we do not switch on the air conditioners that often; therefore, the power-cut has become less frequent too!

August and September months will bring the torrent rain ... sometimes we will have heavy rain for three or more days non stop.


A goat herder (far right) takes refuge beneath his animals, Kolkata, India

Photo: Sandy Ao

Bangladesh faces more woes during monsoon than India, as most of the Northeast of India’s rain water washes down to Bangladesh. And North East of India has the longest raining season of all India.

I guess when monsoon comes, it is a real challenge for the people in Bangladesh. But in recent years, the Western part of India—Mumbai, Gujarat state. – has faced lots of water logging during rainy days. The reason could be due to the rising of sea water. Every time when there is heavy rain, we will find the breaking news about the difficulty that the people in Mumbai face.

Whatever, I still believe, we in India love monsoon more than any other seasons. You should see how Indian cinemas enjoying having songs and dances about monsoon in every film….


Photo: Sandy Ao

Of course, monsoon can bring malaria, snakes, centipedes, and other insects into the household. The other night, one of the family members of the man who works in my mother’s shop got bitten by snake. Fortunately, it was not Cobra! though I was told that Cobra are roaming around their neighbourhood.

Some villagers are trying to get few Citronella grasses for him to plant around his compound, it seems it is good to keep the snakes and other insects away. In the meantime, I got him some Citronella oil to sprinkle around the house, as it is believed to be helpful too.

There are fears in every one’s mind.

Again, as we say, we cannot fight nature. It is the monsoon season; all these hardships are associated with the monsoon. And we simply have to be careful. That’s it.



Let it pour: a family in Kolkata, October 2009

Photo: Sandy Ao

October 7, 2009

I am sending you more pictures of the rains taken this monsoon…

Some pictures may not appeal to the rest of the world, especially the Rickshaw pullers. But during the water logging, one can move around the city with rickshaw only. And during monsoon, these rickshaw pullers earn better than at any other time. They feel bad if no passengers sit on their rickshaws, as that’s their livelihood.

Yes, we are still having rain on and off, perhaps the monsoon is on its last leg,  For Durga has already bid good-bye, so will the monsoon.


Vendors of fruits and vegetables carry on in Kolkata, October 2009 monsoon

Photo: Sandy Ao

This year, at least, in Kolkata city we have not faced an awful rainfall, though there have been a few occasions when the rain is heavy; we find water logging here and there. Especially around the market places and the congested lanes.

Otherwise, so far there has been no bad news of old buildings falling or men falling into open man-holes etc.

Yes we hear from the news that there are floods in the southern parts of India. Many houses, villages, lives are lost….

I don’t know if it sounds strange if I say, we no longer feel that terrible about this tragic news of during monsoon?! We had tragic news about the farmers committing suicides during drought season, and when it rains, we are now hearing the tragic news of farmers losing their homes and lives.

Rather, at this moment, we feel more disturbed with these other tragic news, which are caused by the out law Maoist and the Naxalite.

They are killing so many innocent people without mercy… and such tragedy pains us all more than the tragic news cause by the flood!


Figs and water, in the monsoon season of 2006

Photo: Sandy Ao

I feel if tragedy has a natural cause, like flood, drought, cyclone, earthquake, the people in our country, somehow try to come to terms with all these hardships. I strongly feel, as much as possible, we Indians never try to fight against nature. We are still an agricultural country, and we know rain is very essential especially for the paddy fields. Therefore, no matter how difficult life may become during the monsoon season, the nation, especially, the farmers will welcome the rains with great joy in every monsoon.

And city dwellers like us feel good that each shower of rain washes away the dust and keeping the city cleaner, and the sky bluer.


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/17 at 09:58 PM


The house steps not only provide a transition from public to private and a place from which to enjoy street life, but serve to elevate the entrance from flooding streets.  (

Posted by Georgia on 10/23 at 11:54 AM
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