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July, 2012:

A question of if and weather

The government is trying its best to capture it. The media is crying itself hoarse by discussing it in the manner best known to it, which is by scrolling ‘Breaking News’ and then exiting for advertisement break. The landed farmers, and the land-less tribals are equally worried over it. Mr M has the entire country, and that includes this paragraph too, in scrambled knots. Who is this M? No, not the Maoist. Maran? Not him, too. But the more powerful villain of our times: the monsoon.

India is now looking for a dark cloud in every silver lining as the fear of a failed monsoon looms large on the horizon. So much so every conversation or interaction today has to somehow involve a reference to the seemingly failing monsoon.

Example:

Patient: Doctor, I have a constant ache in the stomach and I feel constipated.

Doctor: Don’t worry, even the rains are struggling to come out these days. Anyway, to be safe, we will have an MRI scan of your kidney and all those working in the meteorological department. If need be, we will do a chemotherapy on the weather bulletin.

Patient calls for an ambulance to get him out of the hospital so that he can survive the emergency.

The point is everyone is overcome by tension and tumult due to the fact the monsoon has gone missing in action. But you can stop being perplexed and start boning up on your understanding of weather patterns, how the Met Office works and the know-how behind the satellites.

As usual, what follows is a set of questions and answers that is pretty convenient if you want to ignore large chunks of prose. Just a note of warning: A few descriptions may be too technical. Don’t take them seriously. Because I didn’t while writing them.

What is the difference between weather and climate?

This is an often-faced confusion. But whenever any one is in doubt over ‘weather’ or ‘climate’, the trick is to catch hold of an Indian and get him use the word ‘climate’ in a normal sentence. And whichever way he/she does, it’s wrong. In a well-honed tradition, we Indians use ‘weather’ where ‘climate’ is appropriate, and vice-versa.

‘The climate is very pleasant today,’ is a very popular usage in India when on the odd day the mercury manages to sneak below the 40 degree Celsius mark. To this, the most natural response usually is: ‘India has only three ‘weathers’: Hot, hotter and Katerina Kaif.’

Anyway, the biggest difference between weather and climate is climate is a round-the-year phenomenon while weather is five-days a week. That’s why the Weather Bureau is closed on weekends.

What is the work of meteorologists?

If you were a student of history, you will realise that meteorologists were the group that studied meteors and its impact. During a blinding research effort, a big meteor probably made its full impact on them. And from then on they became fit for nothing, and hence have been confined to watching weather. Humour writers also watch a lot of weather. But they will claim they are waiting for creative impulse. So this makes two things clear

1) Watching the weather leads to lying

2) Weather reports can be filed under the classification: humour column

What is the origin of the term monsoon?

Monsoon, if you observe the word very closely and intently, will clearly explain itself that it has no real meaning, not just in English, but in all languages. It’s most likely a term coined by a set of meteorologists on an extremely boring afternoon after they were through with putting out the day’s weather bulletin by rewriting the previous day’s bulletin that was copied from the previous year’s.

What’s the science behind the weather satellites and how are those satellite images processed?

The greatest thing about technology, even as it breaches new and untouched frontiers of excellence, is that the science behind it continues to be simple: People can be hoodwinked easily in the name of technology.

Take TVs for example. You bought the black and white set, and before you could come home and turn it on, the colour models were flooding the market. And when you could salvage money to buy the colour models, the wide-screen variety was dominating the scene. When you went in for the wide-screen, the thin-sized, flat-figured ones became dominant. And when you were debating between Plasma and LCD, and finally took the plunge (if you bought one, the other was the better option), the LED types were all over like a rash. But luckily, even before you can react, the 3D varieties have arrived. So when you go for it —- eventually you will —- they will have something like 6D, home-theatre-fixed, fridge-featured, built-in-elevator, no-serial-showing 100-inch TV-mounted wall.

The point is consumers, by which I mean we, are morons. So, it doesn’t take much to pass off dark, dim-lit, wavy, under-developed images as high-fidelity snaps from satellites, which themselves may or may not be orbiting the earth.  At any rate, if whatever the Met predicts goes wrong —- it will —- there is the El Nino.

So, explain El Nino

El Nino, if you are to go by the dictionary, ‘is a warm ocean current that flows along the equator from the date line and south off the coast of Ecuador at Christmas time’. This immediately makes matters clear, particularly the part that when it comes to understanding the real meaning of technical terms the dictionary is of no use.

So we are better off gleaning the meaning of El Nino from practical experience. Experts are prone to pointing fingers at El Nino at all times of extremism as practised by the weather. In other words, it’s the al-Qaeda of climate. If the monsoon plays truant in Mannargudi, you can come to the conclusion that the monsoon and El Nino have picked up yet another fight somewhere over a desert or an ocean several thousand kilometres away.

What is global warming?

When the climate experts feel bored with El Nino, they start picking on global warming. Global warming as a phenomenon is upon humanity due to rampant and irresponsible use of vital natural resources like water.

Is there a way by which water can be saved for humanity?

Yes. Ask Mani Ratnam to stop making films. On an average, he dries up the equivalent of one Mississippi River in the making of his movies. His next offering is portentously named Kadal (Ocean). No wonder the monsoons fear coming over this side.