April 21: A few days ago, Delhi residents were pleasantly surprised when the sweltering April sky suddenly darkened with clouds and it began to rain heavily. A freak shower, they thought, since it hardly ever rains in Delhi in April.

But, surprise, surprise… the rains occurred the next day, too. And the day after. The unseasonal showers have transformed the weather marvellously. It hasn’t happened in Delhi alone.

Most of northern India, from Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh to Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, western Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, have been hit by the rains. Some parts of south India have also been lashed by rains.

There is a possibility of more showers in the future, says the weather department.

A happy turn of affairs, most people would think. But this news has come as a jolt to the farmers of the regions who were waiting to harvest their crops in a few days. The rain has severely damaged their crops.

Bijender Rana, for instance, watched in dismay as vegetables and wheat in his fields in southwest Delhi, were destroyed by rain. Now, his tomatoes lie rotting, his ladyfinger (okra) is pest-infested and the wheat lies scattered everywhere.

The weather forecast that there is more rain coming, has only deepened his gloom. And those of other farmers, especially in Punjab and Delhi. Ask Saroop Singh, the head man of Chhawda village in Delhi, who grows only wheat on his 40 acres of land. The rain has flattened out his wheat, he says. Also, that he can not cut any of the crop that has survived till the soil dries up.

The produce that Saroop Singh did manage to harvest is lying in the fields as he has no place to store it. He fears he has lost at least Rs 2,500 (around $54) per acre.

It must be a particularly bad stroke of luck that brought rains before Baisakhi or the harvest festival that also celebrates the ushering of spring. Baisakhi, which is in mid-April, sets off the new agricultural cycle and the new year according to the indigenous calendars.

Welcome Rains?
Welcome Rains? [Illustration by Shinod AP]
Baisakhi happens to be one of the major festivals of Punjab. To Sikhs, followers of the religion founded by Guru Nanak, Baisakhi is special. Farmers in the extremely fertile state have a lot to celebrate at harvest time. The strenuous Punjabi bhangra dance tells the story of the agricultural process, from tilling the soil through harvesting.

As the dholak (drum) changes beats, the dance sequence progresses with the dancers enacting plowing, sowing, weeding, reaping, and finally celebrating the harvest. Baisakhi also commemorates the day in 1689 when Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa, the aggressive wing of Sikhism.

This year though, the dholak did not sound cheerful at all. Not only are the wheat crops buried in a watery grave, the sowing of new crops, too, has got delayed. From expecting a bumper yield, to hoping against hope that they can recover some of the money they have invested in the crops, the farmers are facing difficult times ahead.