How do people live here?
With the onset of pre-monsoon rains in the months of March, April and May, which are known as Nor’Westers, it rains mostly at night with thunderstorms and strong winds. These squalls have intense precipitation and last for a few hours. They help in bringing down the dead leaves and dead wood from the trees. These strong winds violently shake up these trees to shed their old / dead leaves and wake the trees from their winter hibernation. After these squally weather, usually the morning weather will be clear, bright and sunny. Everything is washed fresh green, puffs of clouds float around the valleys and the sun is out shining bright and strong. The mornings after these pre-monsoon showers are really beautiful. The brown landscape with dry grasslands start turning green as fresh grass start growing after the first rains. The people living here are not much hindered in pursuing their avocations during these months.
According to Dr. P.K. Das, a renowned meteorologist and former Director General of National Meteorological service, the late night movement of air in the upper atmosphere from the Himalayas from east or the northeast in a southerly direction meeting the upward deflected monsoon clouds as they flow northward at a lower level, pushed up into higher altitudes by the steep Khasi Hills, has a role to play in the rains coming late in the night.
In the months of May, June, July and August, when it is raining the whole day, life slows down a bit over here. People are unable to go to the fields. (This pertains to villages in the slopes around Cherrapunjee.) During the monsoon months the farmers are unable to cultivate any crops because the rains are so heavy that the crops cannot withstand their onslaught. People also are not able to go to their betel nut, betel leaf, pepper gardens in the slopes of the hills and valleys. They are forced to remain indoors. But this forced incarceration has not given rise to any productive indoor activity or industry. In Sohra (Cherrapunjee), where agriculture is not an avocation, life goes on as usual, but with more time spent indoors in inactivity around warm charcoal fires.
Construction activity almost comes to a standstill during the monsoon months. Usually, by September people of this area start lining up materials for the construction of houses. As the rains recede construction work picks up momentum and there is a rush to complete the construction work before the monsoon sets in.
In the villages around Cherrapunjee where there are houses with thatch roofs one can notice a perceptible urgency in the months of late March and April to rush through redoing the thatch roof with fresh thatch. With rains coming eight months in a year, thatch roofs don’t stand a chance from rotting and breaking off within a year. However, the open log fire inside the house helps to keep the thatch dry and smoke acts as a preserver.
A system of social security ensures that the poor don’t have to put up with a leaky roof for want of money. The leaf for thatch is available in the forests and house gardens. The poor can collect it and make the thatch themselves. Then a day is fixed in consultation with the people of the village to come to the aid of the house and do the roof on the appointed day. One person comes from each house to give a helping hand. The owner of the hut provides cooked rice, a meat dish and tea or something to eat according to one’s capacity and by evening the new roof is in place. The village Dorbar / Sirdar / Headman permits the poor to collect timber for the structure from the village forest.
Of late the State Government has started providing bundles of tin sheet roofing to the people classified as BPL (Below Poverty Line) families and has embarked on a Social Housing Project involving construction of low cost houses for BPL families. So after sometime, hopefully, the ritual of redoing thatch roof before the monsoon rains will become history.
During the four dry months of November, December, January & February the betel plants cultivated in the limestone karst areas need to be irrigated. The betel plants can source water from the ground in the first two months. By December the farmers around here start making bamboo pipes to carry water long distances from the few springs that still continue to have water to irrigate the betel plants on these limestone karsts. Some of them can run almost a km long. Some have started using plastic irrigation pipes, these days. But still many continue to renew their bamboo drip irrigation systems every year.