I wonder how many of us with roots in the old walled city of Lahore remember a time, when groups of small boys with naked torsos and faces blackened with crushed charcoal, ran through the streets chanting, “Kaalian ittan, kaalay ror, meehn warsa they zoro zor” (Blackened bricks and blackened stones, give us rain in a mighty roar). These were the young rain makers of yore, exhorting the heavens to open up with a deluge and give much needed relief to the sun scorched earth. It is said that often this chanting crowd of innocent children was blest with descending rain drops.

When hot weather was accompanied by a prolonged dry spell, even the most stoic Lahori lost his legendary good humour. The heat became unbearable spawning a myriad of illnesses and all eyes turned skywards looking for that telltale wisp of cloud that would hopefully multiply into a pre monsoon shower. Blistering temperatures forced the faithful to offer special prayers so that rain might bring comfort to plant, beast and man.

Rain making rituals are as old as mankind itself. While many of these are serious undertaken as a token of faith, others are, what can be termed as frivolous in nature. Take for example the practice of throwing a tumbler (preferably a bucket) of water over someone, known to possess an unpopular disposition. A more modern version of this act is to fill a polythene bag with water and release it on the target from an upstairs window or balcony. Motivated by the need for a much needed cool shower, I along with a few cousins tried this method with disastrous consequences for ourselves.

I am told that in some areas where dates are a source of sustenance and revenue, farmers often resort to ‘chasing’ precipitation away as dry heat produces a better crop. The method used is likely to cause consternation amongst animal rights activists, for it involves burying a donkey up to its neck and then thrashing it with sticks. It is said that the cries (or curses) of the tormented beast dispel any chances of rain. I have never been witness to this barbaric act, but during a long professional tenure in southern Punjab, have been told that it is true.

Rain is considered to be the purest form of the life giving liquid and has inspired many environmentalists to consume it instead of normal ground water or its mineral alternative. There is an old pre-independence forest rest house nestling in a remote cedar forest near Murree, where rainwater is collected and used for drinking, cooking and washing. I have stayed at the spot and found the experience extremely refreshing. Some homes in rural Islamabad now have rain catchers installed on their roofs.

While rain is life giving, a sudden deluge can often be dangerous. I remember, when on an extended outdoor commitment in the field, I made the injudicious decision to halt in the dry bed of a watercourse. The clear blue sky, the humming of wild honey bees and a good meal soon lulled me into dreamland. I don’t know how long I had slept, when I was rudely awakened by panic stricken shouting amidst a distant roaring sound that appeared to increase by the second. As I looked, a two feet high wall of brown water and debris appeared at the far corner of the watercourse giving me moments to gather up my stuff and clamber up the bank for safety. For the next half an hour I watched, as a bone dry stream bed was turned into a raging torrent, by rains somewhere in the distant hills.

One has often heard the saying ‘raining cats and dogs’. While clouds (barring tornadoes) may not deliver canines and felines, but they have been known to deposit frogs, fishes and other marine creatures creating speculation and superstitious tales around, what is a perfectly explicable weather phenomena.

Dark billowing clouds also affect moods and human behavior especially in our very own region. It generates an urge to get drenched, stuff ourselves with ‘pakwans’ (such as ‘pakoras’ and ‘besni roti’) and stirs romanticism. No wonder that songs are written and sung about ‘barsat’, ‘sawan’ and ‘megha’ as part of the sub continental culture.