I once wrote a piece on ‘clouds’ and thought that I would not write another story featuring this particular phenomenon in the sky. Little did I know that my fascination with, what appears to be a very common weather manifestation, would reach a point, where another ‘cloudy tale’ became obsessively necessary.

The other day, my youngest granddaughter - a tiny female, who appears to have been born with unbridled curiosity and observation, woke me up from a well-deserved nap in my verandah, after an exhausting day at the office. It was late evening and towering thunderheads were building up on the horizon in all their magnificent glory. In a voice filled with wonder and glee, I was shown an elephant, an old man’s head, a horse with a fat rider and a huge tree. As I looked, the elephant changed into a grinning profile, the old man’s head into what looked like a bird and the horse with its obese rider gradually dissipated into nothingness.

Images formed by clouds are something fascinating and if one has a vivid imagination, these images morph into epic encounters, such as cavalry charging a monstrous dragon, wherein both the beast and its attackers gradually change shape and melt away. It is thus that on a partly cloudy day one can just lie on the grass and watch multiple stories unfolding in the sky.

Technically speaking clouds are nothing, but concentrated water vapour that condenses under the right conditions and precipitates in the form of rain, hail, sleet or snow. Clouds are generally divided into ten types and named in Latin. While these names do not titillate the aesthetics, there was a time, when people in the sub-continent referred to different types of clouds in a most charming manner. Regretfully these names are now almost extinct.

My late grandmother, who passed away at the ripe old age of ninety six somewhere in the early sixties used to point at the sky as a layer of Stratus cloud began to appear and say that this was ‘teetar punkh’ or ‘partridge feathers’. One look and it became apparent that she was right, since the sky appeared to be mimicking the pattern on a brown partridge’s plumage in white. She also pointed out some shapes as ‘more punkh’ or ‘peacock feathers’, but my I have failed to recollect as to the type of cloud formation she was referring to. The ‘teetar punkh’ has stuck in my memory since my grandma claimed that rain would follow, whenever this pattern showed up and it was often that her prediction turned out to be true. I wish, the grand old lady had told me the names of the other nine formations.

The cloud formation that happens to be my favourite is the Cumulus and its cousin the Cumulonimbus (often referred to as Thunderheads). These are the two types that have the potential to produce the amazing images referred to earlier, but it is the Cumulonimbus that fascinates me to no end. Rising pile upon pile in silvery white, interspersed with multiple shades of grey, this moisture filled phenomenon rises vertically in monstrous and treacherous tower like formations, which can be seen ‘boiling up’ to the heavens. I have used the word treacherous, because of what goes on inside this cloud – unpredictable wind current that spiral up causing shears that can rip aircraft or make pilots lose all control. There is massive lightning and thunder in there too (hence the name ‘Thunderheads’), which adds to danger. Aircraft avoid flying through a Cumulonimbus formation, but specially designed planes equipped with measuring instruments do venture in to record the maelstrom in order to increase our understanding of this awesome spectacle.

The Federal Capital often witnesses Cumulonimbus displays, but rarely do people stop their cars to watch and enjoy, what nature is providing them – a free show of the most amazing kind. A sight that is both beautiful and magical on one hand, while awe inspiring and fearsome on the other.


The writer is a historian.