I am a sucker for old fashioned music and those that made it. There is nothing more delightful than listening to the soft strains of Fred Astaire’s ‘Singing in the Rain’, sitting in front of a crackling log fire, while the view outside the study window is obliterated by an icy curtain of sleet. It was one such evening with Mr. Astaire that inspired this week’s column

Now rain is one of the greatest gifts that God Almighty has bestowed upon living things. It gives life and sustenance without which nothing would survive, but sometimes an excess of it turns calamitous. Take for example the Great Deluge sent down by the Creator as retribution in the days of Prophet Noah. It was only the Good Prophet, some family members, his followers and a pair of every existing animal species that survived this divine punishment, by riding out the storm in the great Ark that Noah built.

Tribal lore from Africa, South America and the Pacific Islands is full of stuff about how Witch Doctors and Shamans can induce precipitation. The Native Americans have a traditional ceremony to induce rain, called the ‘Rain Dance’. The Sub Continent also had (and perhaps still has) its share of rain makers. There was a time when, after a particularly long and uncomfortable dry spell, groups of young boys would blacken their faces and then march through the streets of the walled city in Lahore chanting, “Kaalian ittaan, kaalay rorh. Meenh warsaa they zoro zor”.

There is another method of obtaining a cooling wet spell, preached by many pranksters. I would urge readers to refrain from trying it without first ensuring that the perpetrator is fit of body and fleet of feet. This involves throwing a bucket of water on someone with a nasty temperament. I and a cousin once opted for this activity a very long time ago, substituting the bucket with a water-ball, from the balcony of our old house inside Bhati Gate and suffered painful consequences. Notwithstanding all what has been said about rainmaking, the established scientific method of doing the needful is to carry out an aerial seeding of clouds with Silver Iodide crystals. This causes a chemical reaction that brings down much needed rain.

There is however a flip side to rainmaking, where all manner of practices are resorted to in order to keep moisture bearing clouds at bay. Mango and date farmers in Sindh and Southern Punjab are reported to employ a bizarre method to obtain hot, sunny and dry weather necessary for a good harvest. An old friend from Multan once told me of a ritual where a live donkey is buried neck deep in the ground and then beaten with sticks. It is believed that the cries of the tormented beast drive away any chances of rain. If this is true, then it is time that animal rights activists put an end to something that is pagan and barbaric.

I came across an intriguing superstition amongst some local caterers that impending bad weather could be held in check by planting forks in all four corners of the place designated for an outdoor banquet or marriage ceremony. The method was once suggested to me as dark clouds threatened to disrupt my daughter’s wedding reception, but I firmly forbid it and said a silent prayer to the Almighty for help. Needless to say that my plea was answered and we went through the entire ceremony without a hitch only to see a heavy down pour descend upon the spot minutes after everyone had left.

On a personal note, the sight of rolling dark clouds, the first tentative drops that precede a shower, the smell of wet earth, the brilliant green freshly laundered leaves and the amazing arch of a rainbow are things that make me infinitely grateful to my Maker.

The writer belongs to a very old and established family of the Walled City. His forte is the study of History.