Way back, when joking about the old village ways of the old country, we would ask ourselves at home in the typical Tirunelveli dialect, மேக்க மழ உண்டா வேய் (any rains in the west?) That question seemed like it was pretty much the standard greeting among the menfolk in Pattamadai. For all the reasons: the place was in a rain-shadow region east of the mountains, and the monsoons over the Western Ghats were critical for the river flow.
All kidding aside, the visits to Pattamadai also were valuable lessons on how precious water is--something we would never have known otherwise. In Neyveli, where we grew up, water--and tasty water at that--was in plenty. And piped too!
Thus, even now, talking with my father about the rains in Pattamadai is not rare, especially now that it is the monsoon season.
"It has been abundant rainfall all over India" father said a few conversations ago. He added that because of the substantial inflow into the rivers and dams in the west, those states have had no choice but to release water downstream into Tamil Nadu, particularly to Mettur Dam.
A few days ago, he reported that the water level at Mettur Dam, which had been at 15 feet a few months ago, had rapidly gone up to fifty. Then sixty. Then seventy.
"The intial rise will always be rapid" father said. "As you know, as the water level increases, the area over which the water spreads also increases, which means it will require a lot more water inflow to get it up to seventy-five and eighty."
The retired civil engineer hasn't lost anything at 83. Good for him! I hoped that he would not test me with a math problem of "if so many cubic-feet/second is the inflow, and the dam's height is ..." I was just short of yanking my hair out of the scalp--whatever is left in my balding head--in trying to recall the formula for the area and volume of a cone. Thankfully, father moved on to how Chennai's water will depend on the rains later in the year.
Two days ago, father was excited. "Mettur level has gone up really well, which means that they will release the water for ஆடி பெருக்கு" (a pre-planting festival time in early August.) The Hindu notes that the water level at the dam is just shy of 90 feet. Later today, when I call up my parents, I bet he will be thrilled and will have more to say on this.
While water level there is something to celebrate, here in Oregon it has been a remarkably below-normal precipitation over the year thanks to which the Willamette River looks like a feeble trickle. As I was eating blackberries off the vines by the riverbank, a neighbor asked me "have you ever seen those rocks in the middle of the river there?" as she simultaneously pointed them with her finger.
"Nope" I said. "Throughout the walk it is that way. I see boulders and stretches of pebbles that I didn't know existed in all these eleven years that I have lived here."
"And it has been so hot" she complained. "Looks like the California I ditched is catching up with me" she added with a laugh.
Even though we joked about the Pattamadai men talking about rains all the time, it is only thanks to them that I was made aware of the importance of rain and water. The water that makes life possible in Pattamadai and anywhere on this Pale Blue Dot. Maybe my life here by the Willamette is nothing but the continuation of the life my people had by the Tamrabarani.
May the farmers in Pattamadai, and everywhere else on the planet too, and the rest of us also, always have plenty of water, and may we never, ever, forget its importance.